Ruins of San Francisco near Post and Grant Avenue
On April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m., San Francisco and the surrounding area was struck by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake with an epicenter just two miles west of the city. Massive fires followed, burning a large portion of the city over the course of three days. Three thousand people were killed in the disaster, and half of San Francisco’s population became refugees.
Most people still slept when the earthquake struck. A brief initial shock was followed by the main quake, which lasted 45 to 60 seconds. In that minute, buildings throughout the city crumbled, roads cracked, water and gas mains broke, and thousands of people were killed, trapped, or injured. A strong aftershock around 8 a.m. sent more buildings toppling.
San Francisco wasn’t the only city affected; Santa Rosa and San Jose were equally decimated by the earthquake, and tremors reached as far north as Oregon and as far south as Los Angeles.
The damage caused by the earthquake was devastating enough, but within half an hour more than 50 fires had been reported in San Francisco. Despite the response of local firemen, some of the fires grew into massive conflagrations that burned through well-known neighborhoods, including the city’s downtown, Chinatown, and Nob Hill. By the time the fires were extinguished on Saturday, 4.7 square miles, 500 city blocks, and 28,000 buildings had burned.
As a result of the earthquake and fires, more than 200,000 San Franciscans (out of a population of 400,000) became homeless. Initially, many camped in parks or other open spaces, but soon many fled the city altogether—some temporarily, others permanently. Organized relief efforts offered food, water, and shelter to the refugees, and millions of dollars in aid and donations were given to the city.
Clean-up would take two years, and rebuilding would take even longer. In some respects, however, the city never fully recovered from the earthquake; before the disaster San Francisco had been the leading city on the West Coast, but following it, Los Angeles took its place.
Learn more about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
Images of San Francisco before the devastation of the 1906 earthquake and fires Wed, Apr 18, 1906 – Page 2 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Newspapers.comSan Francisco struck by destructive earthquake and resulting fires, April 18, 1906 Wed, Apr 18, 1906 – 1 · The Buffalo Enquirer (Buffalo, New York) · Newspapers.comSan Francisco earthquake 1906 report in Kansas paper details the destruction and chaos in the city Wed, Apr 18, 1906 – Page 1 · The Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Newspapers.comNews reports residents were asleep at the time of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake Wed, Apr 18, 1906 – 1 · The Buffalo Enquirer (Buffalo, New York) · Newspapers.comA short aftershock at 8:15 am stirs further panic in devastated San Francisco, 1906 Wed, Apr 18, 1906 – 1 · The Butte Daily Post (Butte, Montana) · Newspapers.comFires caused by the San Francisco Earthquake rapidly spreading with no indication of stopping Wed, Apr 18, 1906 – Page 1 · The Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Newspapers.comRaging fires follow 1906 San Francisco earthquake, buildings blown up to check flames Wed, Apr 18, 1906 – Page 1 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Newspapers.comMap of the city of San Francisco, showing burned district following the 1906 earthquake Sun, Apr 22, 1906 – Page 5 · The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana) · Newspapers.comPhotographs of the earthquake's damage to Bush and Market streets published in San Francisco Call Tue, Apr 24, 1906 – Page 1 · The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.comSan Francisco city hall escaped flames but still destroyed by the earthquake, 1906 Tue, May 8, 1906 – 1 · The Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana) · Newspapers.comSan Francisco 1906 earthquake felt across large area, as far east as Hazen, NV Wed, Apr 18, 1906 – Page 1 · The Salina Evening Journal (Salina, Kansas) · Newspapers.comEffects of devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake felt in nearby towns like Santa Rosa, San Jose Thu, Apr 19, 1906 – 14 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comVendome Hotel in nearby San Jose, California, damaged by the San Francisco 1906 earthquake Mon, May 14, 1906 – Page 6 · The Star Press (Muncie, Indiana) · Newspapers.comEarly estimate concludes 100,000 homeless after the San Francisco earthquake and fires, 1906 Thu, Apr 19, 1906 – 14 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comArtist's interpretation of the park camps following the San Francisco 1906 earthquake and fires Fri, Apr 20, 1906 – 1 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comThousands flee San Francisco in wake of 1906 earthquake and fires Fri, Apr 20, 1906 – Page 1 · The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana) · Newspapers.comList of prominent buildings destroyed in San Francisco and area, published April 19, 1906 Thu, Apr 19, 1906 – 1 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · Newspapers.comEarly death and costs estimates of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, one week following disaster Thu, Apr 26, 1906 – 3 · Wood County Reporter (Grand Rapids, Wisconsin) · Newspapers.comMillions of dollars in donations raised to aid victims of the San Francisco 1906 earthquake & fires Fri, Apr 20, 1906 – 8 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comSan Francisco rebuilds following 1906 earthquake, Nov 1906 Wed, Nov 14, 1906 – Page 7 · Barber County Index (Medicine Lodge, Kansas) · Newspapers.com