Fissure in street caused by San Francisco earthquake

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

On April 18, 1906, at approximately 5:12 a.m. local time, a foreshock, a slight tremor right before an earthquake, struck near San Francisco, California. Twenty to twenty-five seconds later, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake ripped through the city and state. Although the massive quake only lasted 45-60 seconds, the results were devastating. Newspapers all over the country immediately reported news about the disaster-stricken area. 


“Earthquake’s Autograph as it Wrote it 3,000 Miles Away” shows the tracing of a seismographic needle the earthquake made on the other side of the country. It only took nineteen minutes for the vibrations to cross the continent. Other headlines from the April 19th edition of the New York Times include: “The Buildings Destroyed,” “All San Francisco May Burn,” and “Water Supply Fails and Dynamite is Used in Vain.”

The earthquake was just the beginning of the catastrophe. Fire burned for three days and consumed nearly 500 city blocks. The front page of the Hamilton Evening Democrat from Ohio, published the same day, was dedicated to coverage of the destruction. “An Awful Earthquake” followed by snippets of information detailed the horror.

“Map of the Stricken Region” and “All Communication Cut Off” are only a small part of the Mitchell Daily Republican’s reporting on the disaster. Each article evokes the sadness, confusion, and terror in San Francisco. Events such as this inevitably bring up past disasters. Slated as the “Worst Quake in the US,” another article lists some of the worst earthquakes in history from around the world.

“Crevice in Street” gives readers a vivid description of the damage, including a six-foot-wide crack at Eighteenth and Valencia streets, the destruction of the streetcar tracks, and three miles of sunken railroad tracks. Other articles on the front page of the Dubuque Daily Times include: “City Hall in Ruins” and “Loss Already $40,000,000.” 

Relief efforts to help the tens of thousands that were homeless began immediately. Many newspapers issued a call to help. Some even published a list of the donations like “Cash Aid Pouring In” in the Baltimore Sun.

Here are a few other examples of the hundreds of newspapers and articles dedicated to coverage of the disaster in San Francisco:

Xenia Daily Gazette
Earthquake with Flames – The City of San Francisco in Ruins”

Daily Crescent-News
“Latest Tidings from San Francisco”

The Sedalia Weekly Sentinel
“Flames Continue Deadly Work Started by Earthquake”

The Weekly Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana
“San Francisco in Ruins”

For more articles, headlines, and images about the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, check out the newspaper collection at Sign-up for a 7-day Free Trial to start searching today.

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