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7.1.5 San Francisco Panorama (C)

This daguerreotypes shows a busy San Francisco industrial harbor scene full of ships. Two different manufacturing companies are represented among the buildings in the foreground: the Pacific Iron Foundry and the Vulcan Foundry. Rolling hills and the San Francisco bay are visible in the background.
San Francisco Panorama (C). Photograph. 1851. California Historical Society, San Francisco Panorama, DAG 11C.

This is a photograph taken of the harbor of San Francisco in 1851. It was one of seven slides that made up a panorama showing the whole city. The photographer was standing at the corner of First and Howard streets. This type of early photograph is called a daguerreotype. At that time, photography was a very new invention. Although San Francisco was much smaller than it would be later, the buildings and wharves around the harbor show that it was set up for ships to sail in, and for merchants to trade goods. Ships sailing across the Pacific to China, Japan, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia often stopped here for supplies and trade. When news of the discovery of gold reached San Francisco, sailors deserted (left) their ships and took off for the gold fields to get rich. That is why there are so many ships in this harbor. All of them were empty, and some never sailed out again. Some were used in the landfill that enlarged the harbor. They are still lying underneath the city.

This scene from a panorama daguerreotype of San Francisco shows what the harbor area of San Francisco looked like in the early Gold Rush years, before much building was done in the city. The shoreline does not match the modern wharves, because large parts of the northern city along the bay were created with landfill. There are many stories of people dropping what they were doing when they heard the news that gold had been discovered. San Francisco and other California towns lost many inhabitants, and their economies were seriously disrupted by the lack of workers. The hundreds of deserted ships in the harbor are an arresting illustration of the allure of gold fever.