It’s still not determined whether Mark Twain actually said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” but there’s plenty of rich—sometimes odd—facts and trivia in our fair City by the Bay. Despite its relatively brief 150-year history, this is after all a city founded by gold barons and scalliwags, prostitutes and princesses, sailors and railroad men.
The Fastest-Growing City in World History
In 1846, San Francisco was a village of 400; by the end of 1849, following the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, the population ballooned to 25,000. Today, the population stands at about 780,000, with the greater Bay Area home to more than 7 million.
What’s in a Name?
Before making St. Francis of Assisi its namesake, San Francisco was called Yerba Buena, which means “good herb.” Not to be confused with the biggest cash crop in Humboldt County, the name was in reference to the sweet mint that grew around Portsmouth Square.
Old-timers call it the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, because it was the more than 50 blazes in the aftermath of the 8.2 temblor that caused most of the damage. More than 28,000 buildings were destroyed; 250,000 were left homeless and nearly 500 died.
Tourists may flock to Lombard, but the crookedest street in San Francisco is actually Vermont Avenue between 22nd and 23rd . Filbert between Hyde and Leavenworth is the steepest at 31.5 degrees.
San Francisco, known worldwide for its “seven” hills, is actually built on 43 hills.
The first street in San Francisco was named Calle de la Fundacion (Foundation Street), later renamed Dupont Street. Today, it is Grant Avenue, and it runs through the heart of Chinatown.
The Comstock Lode, the famous silver strike in western Nevada in the late 1850s, actually brought in more money than the Mother Lode (Gold Rush).
The Old Mint, now a historic landmark at Fifth and Mission, was built in 1874, survived the 1906 Earthquake and in its 58 years of operation minted more than $750 million worth of gold and silver coins. At one time, it held one-third of all gold reserves in the U.S.
The first television picture was transmitted from San Francisco by Philo T. Farnsworth in 1927.
The fortune cookie first appeared in San Francisco—allegedly, so did the martini.<
The first “sanctioned” topless dancing in the country took place at the Condor Club in North Beach, on June 19, 1964.
San Francisco cable cars are the only moving National Historic Landmark, and 9.7 million people take a nine-mile-per-hour ride on them each year.
John C. Fremont named the San Francisco Bay’s entrance “Chrysopylae” (Golden Gate) because it resembled Istanbul’s Golden Horn.
The Golden Gate Bridge, with 23 miles of ladders and 300,000 rivets in each tower, was the world’s longest span when it opened in 1937. Seventeen ironworkers and 38 painters constantly fight rust and renew the international orange paint on its 1.7-mile span.
Mission Dolores is the oldest building in San Francisco, built in 1791. The original structure, however, was consecrated by Padre Palou on June 29, 1776, a week before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The secret ingredient in San Francisco’s famed sourdough bread is…yogurt! The pioneers of 1849 had no yeast, but took advantage of the bacteria in yogurt.
It was here that our one and only monarch, Norton I, proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States (and later Protector of Mexico) in 1859. In subsequent proclamations, Emperor Norton abolished congress and called for a bridge to be built between Oakland and San Francisco. Mark Twain immortalized him as the King in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.