In 1869, Andrew Smith Hallidie witnessed a sad yet all too common occurrence at the time: Horses being whipped as they struggled to pull a carriage full of passengers up the steep hills of San Francisco. Hallidie had already been using the patented "wire rope" invented by his father back in England to haul ore from the mines during the Gold Rush. Why not use it to develop a cable-driven rail system for the city as well?
Hallidie quickly partnered with a local railroad company and together they started construction of a cable line. By August of 1873, the first cable cars started running up Clay Street hill. Eventually, 53 miles of cable car track connected much the city, and it became the transportation of choice for San Francisco residents.
Today, San Francisco's cable cars enjoy continued popularity and have earned National Landmark status. There's even a free Cable Car Museum dedicated to the iconic trolley's past and present. Established in 1974, it is located in the Washington/Mason cable car barn and powerhouse--giving visitors a peek into living history.
The top floor of the museum is dedicated to the development of the cable car. Here you can peruse photos, memorabilia, and three original cars from the 1870s on display. Downstairs is where you'll find the action. Here, you can see (and hear, it's loud!) the actual engines and wheels pulling the cables that move the cars. Fun fact: At night, the cable cars are housed in the street-level "barn" at the museum.
Cover photo credit: Joe Ross via Flickr.