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7.1.7 Andrew Hallidie and the need for cable cars

Kahn, Edgar Myron

"Andrew Hallidie as quoted in: Myron Kahn, Edgar. “Andrew Smith Hallidie.” California Historical Society Quarterly (June 1940)."

Andrew Smith Hallidie became interested in engineering as a child in London. He traveled to San Francisco as a teenager with his father during the Gold Rush and stayed to try his hand at mining. He eventually found success building bridges and doing other construction and engineering work. Experienced miners from Chile and other places brought the technology of mining with them to California. Hallidie saw those technologies and invented improvements. He saw that the hemp rope miners used to slide ore containers on aerial tramways across canyons often broke. He was inspired to invent rope made of wire that would not break as easily. In 1873, he used the wire rope to create cable cars in San Francisco. At sites of encounter, like San Francisco in the Gold Rush era, the encounters between people of different cultures create a synthesis that can lead to new technology and new products. Hallidie’s cable cars spread to large cities across the country, including New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. Whether you live in San Francisco or just visit Fog City, you can still ride the cable cars up the steep hills today! Vocabulary induced: caused, led to obviating: getting rid of, solving matured my plans: started making his design into a real project

Andrew Smith Hallidie traveled to California from London in 1852 as a teenager and started working as a gold miner, taking on many other jobs, such as blacksmithing; surveying water ditches, roads, and trails; and building bridges. He moved to San Francisco in 1857 and successfully built a career as an engineer designing suspension bridges. Among his early important inventions was the wire rope that improved workers’ abilities to transport heavy loads. Living in San Francisco, Hallidie saw an issue with transportation in the hilly city, and he worked into the 1870s to invent the cable car, which used underground cables to power the tram. The world’s first commercial cable car ran on August 1, 1873. The cable car was a huge success in San Francisco and was used across the country as a means of public transit into the 1900s. The invention of wire rope and its application to cable cars is an example of the new technologies that emerge at sites of encounter from the synthesis of different cultures. Chileans and other foreign miners brought in knowledge of the early techniques of mining, and Hallidie used his engineering background to devise an improvement.

"I was largely induced to think over the matter from seeing the difficulty and pain the horses experienced in hauling the cars up Jackson Street, from Kearny to Stockton Street, on which street four or five horses were needed for the purpose–the driving being accompanied by the free use of the whip and voice, and occasionally by the horses falling and being dragged down the hill on their sides, by the car loaded with passengers sliding on its track.....

.... With the view of obviating these difficulties, and for the purpose of reducing the expense of operating street railways, I devoted all my available time to the careful consideration of the subject, and so far matured my plans that I had California Street surveyed …. [in order] to run a rope railway …."