#OnThisDay: San Francisco Earthquake, 1906

Before daylight on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, the northern coast of California, including the city of San Francisco, was rocked by an earthquake of historic proportions. In retrospect, it was estimated to have been on the magnitude of 7.9.

The earthquake and its resulting fires destroyed 500 city blocks – approximately 28,000 buildings. The fires burned for three days and intensified the citizens’ fears and anxiety.

Photo credit: Christopher Burns on unsplash.com

Some 200,000 people – half of the city’s population at the time – were left homeless. Although usually referred to as “the Great San Francisco Earthquake,” it also resulted in widespread damage in northern California, including San Jose and Oakland.

Cooking food inside standing houses was outlawed immediately after the earthquake in the government’s efforts to minimize additional fires. “Bread lines” were established to distribute food to the homeless and whatever food preparation that was possible was done in the streets.

According to the United States Geological Survey website, (https://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/events/1906calif/18april/) 296 miles (477 kilometers) of the San Andreas fault ruptured. The quake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and as far east as central Nevada. Much was learned from this earthquake, but it would be a half-century later before plate tectonics as a field of study would shed more light on exactly what processes were at play to produce the event.

The USGS website contains a drop-down menu through which you can access many more details about this earthquake, including comparisons with the October 17, 1989 quake that struck the San Francisco area just 26 minutes before Game 3 of the World Series was set to begin at Candlestick Park. It was measured at 6.9 on the Richter Scale.

Earth tremors and earthquakes of low magnitude are a daily occurrence in San Francisco. That is something I can’t imagine, since I’ve only felt two earthquakes in my life.

While doing the research for today’s blog post, I remembered reading The Nature of Fragile Things, by Susan Meissner in April 2021. It’s a novel based on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. You might like to read what I had to say about that book in my May 3, 2021 blog post, 5 Historical Novels I Read in April 2021.

Since my last blog post

Jennie Nash’s book, Blueprint for a Book: Build You Novel from the Inside Out, is helping me outline The Heirloom. Ms. Nash’s “inside outline” helps me remember there must be a reaction to every event and internal reactions are what pull readers into a story.

I continue not to be at my best physically, but I’m constantly thinking about the plotline for The Heirloom and how I can make it better.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

Remember the people of Ukraine.


14 thoughts on “#OnThisDay: San Francisco Earthquake, 1906

  1. Excellent thought process, Janet. Tracking scene essential beats, critical contributions, and crucial content are often overlooked tasks every writer should self-edit. Jennie Nash’s book covers key tasks — a fantastic reference. In my posts this week and last, I’ve taken a stab at how to track the beats, contributions, and content. Every time I perform these self-edits, I’m rewarded with ideas to enhance my story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t imagine that kind of devastation that was not due to mankind. I am surprised the people couldn’t cook in standing homes as they could have helped to feed and house the homeless. I found this information very interesting, and I didn’t realize the earthquake in 1989 was that big! Thank you Janet!

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  3. Thank you, Diane. I didn’t realize the 1989 earthquake was that big either, until I was researching the one in 1906. I think the people were prohibited from cooking in standing homes due to fear of more fires, but it seems like that would have alleviated the hunger. I hope you’re feeling better. Take care of yourself.


  4. I can’t imagine living in a place that gets jolted virtually every day to some degree. I suppose people in California don’t understand why some of us choose to live where there are hurricanes and tornadoes. At least we usually have a little advance notice for the tornadoes, so we have time to take cover in the basement.

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  5. I agree, Janet. Tornadoes drills were standard in school. When the earth shook, I was so scared. Then, the church service went on normally after the earthquake! My CA friends thought I was overreacting. Once in Texas there was a tornado warning. The sky was green. Our office had a large bank of windows on the outer wall. Of 20 people, I was the sole person who had ever participated in a drill or knew safety precautions. I realized that if the twister came, the only solid cinder block walls were in the bathrooms. When I told my colleagues, half said they’d rather meet their maker than crouch in the bathroom all afternoon! The tornado passed wide of us, thankfully.

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  6. I first became interested in this earthquake after seeing the C lark Gable-Janet Mc Donals movie many years ago, and looked into if further, It’s not just me–I think people have a kind of innate interest in earthquakes. Thank you Janet.

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  7. You would have been responsible for saving some lives that day in Texas, if the tornado had hit your office building! My uncle’s house, about 1/4-mile or less from my house was completely destroyed by a tornado during World War II, so we’ve always taken tornado warnings seriously in our family. We have a place set aside with a couple of chairs and quilts for sheltering from a tornado in the southwest corner of our basement.

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  8. Sorry, I forgot to tell you that no one was at home at the time. My uncle and aunt were at work and their young son was at school. Thank goodness! There were no warnings back then, and it dropped out of nowhere. My grandfather saw debris flying by his windows about 300 feet from my uncle’s house. He had no idea he was seeing his son’s house going by until it was all over. Grandpa’s house, milkhouse, barn, chicken coop, etc. weren’t touched. The ceiling of their porch was found out in a field. The lightbulb was still intact. Go figure! They lost absolutely everything. Some people miles away found some of their photographs in their yard, had heard about the tornado, and brought the pictures to them.

    Liked by 1 person

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