January 17th is Cable Car Day! This occasion marks the day Andrew Smith Hallidie received the first patent for cable car railways in 1871. Legend has it that Hallidie was inspired to create the cable car after witnessing horses struggle to pull carriages up San Francisco’s steep hills.
Hallidie first tested the cable car in San Francisco in 1873. Hallidie partnered with Clay Street Hill Railroad that year and by September the company offered public service in San Francisco.
Cable car companies faced competition from electric streetcars throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Streetcars, which run on steel rails and are connected to overhead wires, were cheaper to build and maintain than cable cars, which run on steel rails and are propelled by an underground cable.
By the mid-20th century, San Francisco was considering completely eliminating cable car lines. Concerned citizens protested the proposal and, thanks to their efforts, the cable cars were saved.Today, San Francisco’s cable cars are protected as a National Historic Landmark. You can still ride on a San Francisco cable car; visit SFMTA’s website for tickets and more information.