Hallidie and the Cable-Cars of San Francisco – The Story of the Cable Cars – Part 5

June 16, 2016 | By | Reply More

Hallidie2The next decade, the 1860’s, found Hallidie and his business associates busily designing and construction wire rope suspension bridges; among the profitable inventions that came from a well-trained and ingenious mind was that called the “Hallidie Ropeway” which became one of the several types of aerial tramways used by mine operators in California and throughout the Far West.

In 1871, one of his numerous patents concerned what he described as an “endless ropeway” which proved to be an important prelude to his cable-car planning.

Later on, he wrote how he was induced to action in this regard by

“seeing the difficulty and pain the horses experienced in hauling cars up Jackson Street from Kearny to Stockton; with a view to obviating these difficulties and for the purpose of  reducing the expense of street railways, I devoted all my time to a careful consideration of the subject.”

Much reflection and consultation with such friends as Joseph Britton, Henry L. Davis, and Jackson Moffitt convinced him that his plan to pick California Street between Kearny and Powell as his first experimental cable railway should yield in favor of Clay Street from Jones to Kearny, a distance of 2,800 feet down a grade amounting to 307 feet.

This decided, he and the above mentioned friends, became business associates with their formation of the Clay Street Hill Railroad Company which was incorporated on August 15, 1872.

David F. Myrick, an acknowledged authority in western transportation history, makes a pivotal in discussing the matter:

Contrary to a general impression, it appears that Hallidie did not invent the cable car; instead, the honor belongs to Benjamin H, Brooks. With his associates, Brooks did considerable planning and secured franchises for a “Street Railroad” (which the San Francisco Bulletin referred to in part as “a steep grade endless rope”) but they were unable to fiancé the construction, so they sold the entire project to Hallidie for a nominal sum. The preamble to the incorporation papers of Hallidie’s company cites the franchises which the supervisors granted to Broocks et al. in 1870 and 1871. Hallidie faced the same monetary difficulties and it was only because E. Willard Burr, president of the Clay St. Bank, had confidence in the project that the Savings and Loan Society advanced $30,000 on a ten year, 10% interest loan.

Even though it appears that Hallidie must not be regarded as the inventor of the Cable Car, the evidence is abundantly clear that it was he who devised, constructed, and put into actual operation in San Francisco the first cable street railroad which provided public transportation and overcame the many mechanical problems of operation up and down hill in the public streets without interference with other vehicular traffic; also, his is the distinction of operating the system with a marked financial profit.

Hallidie’s accomplishments, then (in the face of abundant skepticism) in carrying to completion and undertaking involving mechanical and financial problems of no small moment can leave no doubt as to his mechanical ability, resourcefulness, energy, determination, and courage.

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Category: Fog City - City of Fog, History

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