San Francisco History

San Francisco and Thereabout
 by Charles Keeler
The California Promotion Committee of San Francisco, Publisher, 1902


        San Francisco occupies the strategic post of the world commerce of the twentieth century.  "Westward the course of empire takes its way" was a prophecy which has already found fulfillment.  The Pacific is the new theatre for the enacting of the drama of the nations.  From time immemorial the world has been divided into the East and West, the former of hoar antiquity, conservative, profound, teeming with people, the latter ever young, ever new, following in the march of time, progressive, expanding, peopling new wildernesses, restlessly searching for new worlds of hand or brain to conquer.  From time immemorial the West has thriven upon the commerce of the East.  Phoenecia, Athens, Alexandria, Rome, Venice, Spain, Hollard, England, each in turn has waxed fat and opulent on the commerce of the Orient.  It was in the search for the Spice Islands that America was discovered.  It was in the determined effort to find a more direct route between Europe and the Indies that most of the future exploration of America was pushed.  It is with the same determination to sweep away every obstacle, however monumnetal, which separates the Occident from the Orient, that the United States has undertaken the prodigious task of building the Isthmian Canal.

        After all these centuries of effort, a great city has been reared upon the outposts of the western world with a free sweep of sea off yonder to China.  The tidal wave of civilization has rolled around the globe.  The West has reached its limit, and to go beyond means to cross the international date line into the East.  So intent has San Francisco been upon the petty local problems which environed her that she is only now awakening from her lethargy to realize the preeminence of her position.  Standing upon the rim of the western world, the Orient is before her.  She commands the shortest route to the East, seldom blocked by winter storms, and commerce will always go that way.  It is the law of following the line of least resistance.  Even when the Isthmian Canal is finished, passengers, mail and all perishable freight will go by the quickest way, and the enforced reduction in railroad rates will more than offset any loss of freight business to San Francisco.

        The railroads are alive to their opportunities in overland traffic.  They have so reduced the time that mail and passengers are now carried from ocean to ocean in a little less than four days.  The terrors of the desert are set at naught by the triumphs of engineering.  Vast sums of money are today being applied to the improvement of road-beds, the straightening of curves, lowering of grades and modernizing of equipment on the transcontinental lines.  Instead of the Northwest Passage, for which the mariners of old sought in vain, applied science has given us the overland passage.  So rapid has been the increase of freight business during the past year that the railroads are hard put to supply cars to handle it.  The Sunset Limited train runs daily now instead of twice a week, to accomodate the increasing travel.  Other railroad lines are seeking entrance to San Francisco from the East.  New steamship lines are bringing hither to produce of many shores--of Alaska and South America, Oceanica and Australasia, the Philippines, Japan and China.  There were but three regular steamship lines plying between San Francisco and foreign ports in 1895 as against twelve lines today, and the foreign export business has grown from a tonnage of something over fifteen million pounds in that year to over two hundred million pounds in 1901.  Our merchants are filling orders for Siberia and New Zealand.  Korea and South Africa are being brought within the scope of our commercial enterprise as well as the various countries of Europe.

              The great triangle of the Pacific is destined to have its lines drawn between Hong Kong, Sydney and San Francisco.  Of these three ports, Hong Kong will have China behind it, Sydney, Europe, and San Francisco, America; and with America for a backing, San Francisco can challenge the world in the strife for commercial supremacy.  In the midst of this great triangle lie Hawaii and the Philippines.  From the days of Magellan's immortal voyage to the time of Dewey, the SPanish stronghold in the Pacific remained unshaken save by internal dissensions.  Toady America is roused to a new charge, and if only the love of liberty which has so long thrilled the nation can remain the dominating spirit in our disposition of these populous islands, we shall have a stronger hold upon the vantage ground on the outposts of the Orient than could ever be gained by force of arms.  If we are bound to these people by ties of mutual interest, the islands will be to us a source of legitimate profit and a link in the chain of commerce with the Orient, but if we seek to rule them with a master hand, they will become a drain on our pockets and a potent factor in lowering our national tone.  The future of San Francisco is deeply concerned in this matter, and the present drift of events seems happily in the right direction.

        While San Francisco is thus indebted to its commanding position as toll taker on the world's highway, the city, in common with all California, is also favored by isolation.  Between the snowy crests of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the ocean, is a strip of land of extraordinary fertility.  Here grow the largest forest trees of the world, the largest fruits, the most abundant crops.  Water, in some parts of this region, must be aftificially brought to the land, but irrigation is at once the oldest and the newest method of assuring a harvest.  All ancient civilizations were in countries which depended upon artifically watered crops, and California is but another instance where history is repeating itself.

        Beyond this garden, for hundreds of miles to the eastward stretches a desert, or, more properly speaking, an arid region of alkali plains and sage-brush hills which can probably never support a dense population.  Thus are we of the Coast cut off from kinsmen of the East and Middle West.  Trains may speed their fastest with mail and freight.  Books and magazines may come pouring in upon us in a deluge from New York and Boston, but the physical barrier remains.  California, cosmopolitan though it be, thrilling with the same patriotic pride and enthusiasm as the East, is still intensely self reliant.  It does not hang upon the opinions of Eastern oracles but makes its own standards.  One has but to be inoculated with the California fever by a year's residence to become an enthusiastic victim for life.  There is a largeness of horizon here unknown to the Easterner.  City men to out on summer outings to climb lofty mountain peaks that would appall a tenderfoot.  The stern grandeur of the ocean shores and the vast horizon of Sierra peaks leave their impress upon the race that dwells in such an environment.

        Much has been said and written of the climate of California, but it still remains a fruitful theme.  Within the radius of a hundred miles are to be found all sorts of climate, save the greatest extremes of the tropics and Arctics.  From the cool moist coast to the dry heat of the interior means but the crossing of a spur of the Coast Range.  From the frostless lowlands to a region of heavier snowfall than is found elsewhere in the United States implies but the ascent by rail of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  In the valleys, roses and oranges;  in the mountains, snow-shoes and ice carnivals!

        The climate of San Francisco is uniform to a degree that is equalled in few regions.*  The summer fogs temper the heat and make July and August as comfortable as midwinter for work.  The constant sea breeze that sweeps over the hills all summer long on its way to the hot interior valleys, carries away the germs of disease and makes San Francisco an exceptionally healthy city.  Frost is rare in midwinter and a flurry of snow falls only once in a few years, melting almost ere it touches the ground.  From June to October scarce a shower mostens the ground, but from November to May there are copious downpours, interspersed with some of the loveliest days of the year.  The rainfall varies in amount from year to year, but it is always welcome, since the stormiest of winter weather means an ensuing summer of abundant crops.  Last winter, with a rainfall of twenty-one inches, was an average season.

        From my aerie amid the Berkeley Hills I look out through the Golden Gate and see stately ships and proud steamers coming and going;  I can trace the long line of overland trains speeding along the bay shore;  away yonder the city flecks the stubborn heights of San Francisco.  The whole great pageant of commerce is in view afar off on the blue and purple relief map of bay and mountains.  The matchless gate of gold is there glowing in the sunset.  Over on La Loma, but a stone's throw diestant, stood Fremont when he named that "road of passage and union between two hemispheres" the Chrysopylae or Golden Gate.

        Where could be found a more fitting highway for the world commerce to travel, where a more sublime portal whence the power and products of western civilization should go forth to other shores of this vast Pacific, and the stored wealth, art and industries of the Orient be returned to enrich America?  San Francisco, founded by the Spanish padres who bore the cross to the scattered Indian tribes of the wilderness, invaded by a cosmopolitan horde from the four winds of the globe, flocking at the cry of gold, developed by American energy into the most important city of the Pacific shore, has now taken a new impetus of growth and has before it a more brilliant future than the most sanguine of its founders dared anticipate.  May that largeness of public spirit, that breadth of view and that readiness to co-operate in all that is good, grow and develop until the community is able to fitly cope with this empire of the Pacific sea and shores and make it tribute to its genius!

    *The lowest temperature recorded by the weather bureau during thirty years' observation, is 20 degrees Far.  The hightest is 100 degrees.  The lowest mean temperature for any month during this period was 46 degrees and the highest 65 degrees.  The mean temperature during these thirty years was lowest in December, when it averaged 50 degrees, and the highest in September coming to 63 degrees.  In other words, the variation of mean temperature from month to month during thirty years has only been 13 degrees.


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