An Account of the San Francisco Earthquake, 1906

Earthquakes are very much in the news, with devastating events in Ecuador and Japan within the past week. On April 18, 1906, a devastating earthquake, still by far the deadliest in US history, hit San Francisco. Almost immediately, several fires began in different parts of the city, greatly compounding the damagein fact, the fires caused more damage than the earthquake itself. On April 20, US Commissioner Silas W. Mack described the scene to his wife Clara.


Wednesday, April 18th. will go down in history as the date of the most terrible calamity the United States, and particularly California, has ever known. I do not feel much like writing about it. Would feel better if I could cry but I cannot.

We were awakened at 5:15 A.M. by the shock of the earthquake. There have been several since I have been in California but only two before this were sufficiently pronounced so that I remember them. They did no damage. This one was much more violent even here and was accompanied by a dreadful rumbling noise and roaring, not particularly loud but coming as it were from mighty forces at war in the distance. The house swayed back and forth, it seemed quite a while but I think not more than 25 seconds, then with a sudden wrench stopped. I had gotten out of bed and rushed to the front door but it was so foggy outside that I could see nothing, the first fog of the season. The shocks continued throughout the day but were so light frequently as to be hardly noticeable. There was not the least damage done in the house and no dishes, vases or anything breakable hurled to the floor. And this was the general experience in Monterey and Pacific Grove.

Read a full transcript.

Mack also sent a proclamation by Mayor E. E. Schmitz, issued to address widespread looting and the danger of fire in the wake of the disaster:

  Eugene E. Schmitz, Proclamation by the Mayor, broadside, April 18, 1906. (Gilder