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01 October 2018

Rare footage of post-quake 1906 San Francisco

A still from film footage of devastation after the 1906 earthquake.
Photo: Jason Wright, Silver Shadows Daguerrotypes.
Digitized by David Kiehn,

As the anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake looms this month, it seems appropriate to pause and consider our state's long history of seismic activity. Our knowledge of quakes prior to the 20th century is scant, as the oral tradition of indigenous peoples was largely lost after the arrival of Europeans, and the records kept by the Spanish missionaries and later explorers through the 18th and 19th centuries are spotty. It wasn't until the catastrophic San Francisco earthquake on April 18, 1906, that the United States established the Coast and Geodetic Survey to track and research earthquake activity.

In 2017, collector David Silver made an almost miraculous find at a San Francisco flea market: a long-lost roll of film showing San Francisco immediately after the 1906 quake. Amazingly, the 9-minute reel was intact, although at the time Silver came across it, the seller was holding the fragile, highly flammable nitrate film and "looking through a length of it with a lit cigarette hanging from his lips," as Silver told SFGate.  

The footage of a devastated city was shot by the Miles Brothers and pairs with their most famous work, "A Trip Down Market Street," shot from a cable car just days before the earthquake. Film historian historian David Kiehn made a digital copy of the footage, which was screened at several venues this past spring. It will be shared publicly online through the Library of Congress. You can get a glimpse of it here:

The release of the footage was reported in many news outlets. Our thanks to Dick Eastman, who wrote of the find in his blog, where it came to our attention.

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