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article number 728
article date 07-26-2018
copyright 2018 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
San Francisco - Work Projects Administration History: Part 3, Need Goods - Have to Make Them Locally
by Work Projects Administration

From the 1940 Work Projects Administration book, San Francisco, The Bay and its Cities, with 1970’s updates.

This article is randomly decorated with pictures from the many sections of the [same] book.

* * *


Less than a century spans the interval between the primitive looms and forges, kilns and winepresses of the missions around the Bay and the giant factories, shipbuilding yards, and refineries with their soaring smokestacks that congregate about the water’s edge today.

Where cattle grazed the lonely hills—almost within the memory of living men—furnishing hides for the illicit trade with Yankee sea captains, now rise Contra Costa’s sugar and oil refineries, steel mills, explosive and chemical plants.

Where whaling boats embarked from San Antonio Landing to carry wild fowl, bear, and deer across the Bay to market, now spreads the East Bay’s crowded belt of canneries and factories.

And where whalers and hide traders once tied up on the other side of the water, San Francisco’s printing and coffee roasting plants, meat-packing and canning establishments crowd to the shore.

The infant city by the Golden Gate grew rich overnight as industries sprang up to supply and outfit the Gold Rush population. Within little more than a decade after Stephen Smith had established his steam-powered grist- and sawmill—California’s first—at Bodega in 1843, San Francisco had built stagecoach and wagon factories, flour mills, and breweries.

Boot and shoe factories and plants for the grading and manufacture of wool endeavored to fill the need for clothing and blankets.

As was natural in a city which was in the habit of burning down two or three times a year, lumber mills flourished.

To supply the miners’ demands for picks and shovels and pans, the Donahue Brothers established their foundry (later the Union Iron Works) as early as 1849. Since metal was scarce, San Francisco’s pioneer machine shops and iron moulders were soon hammering iron wagon wheel rims and harness chains into miners’ tools.

San Francisco Gas Light Co. Building, now Merryvale Antiques.

After the overland railroad began providing transportation to and from the East for both freight and passengers in 1869, San Francisco’s industries expanded rapidly. The development of quartz mining and the growth of large-scale agriculture spurred the manufacture of mining and milling equipment.

Other leading industries during this era, in order of importance, were breweries and malt houses, sash and blind mills, boot and shoe factories, tin-ware manufacturing, flour milling, and wool grading and manufacture.

Of lesser importance were the tanneries, coffee and spice processors (now one of the city’s leading industries), rolling mills, box factories, soap works, cracker factories, and packing plants.

Over all, annual industrial output for the two decades of 1870-90 rose from $22 million to $120 million.

The rapidly expanding mining industry had created a tremendous demand for special mining machinery. By 1860 San Francisco had 14 foundries and machine shops employing 222 men and turning out nearly $1.2 million worth of products annually.

With the development of quartz mining and the growth of mining in Nevada, it became the undisputed Western capital for mining machinery.

But mine machinery did not long remain the sole concern of local industry and soon, with typical audacity, the comparatively inexperienced machine shops of San Francisco blithely were turning out such complex pieces of workmanship as railway locomotives, flour mills, steamships and lesser objects of everyday utility.

By the end of the nineteenth century, San Francisco’s machine shops constituted an industry of international stature, supplying flour-milling machinery and equipment for the entire Pacific area, including such widely separated places as South and Central America, Japan, China, Mexico, New Zealand, Siberia, and Australia.

When the miners turned away from the creeks and climbed the hills to follow the quartz ledges, they needed explosives. It was in San Francisco in 1867 that Julius Bandmann took over exclusive rights to manufacture dynamite under the Nobel patents.

San Francisco Post Office, 1849-1850, as imagined by Andre Castaigne for the Century Magazine in 1892.

At his plant in Rock Canyon Bandmann put together and discharged three pounds of dynamite—the first, so far as can be determined, ever to be manufactured in the United States. In 1888 he moved his plant to Contra Costa County, where it became the Giant Corporation, a subsidiary of the Atlas Corporation.

As the West began tearing down whole mountains to dam rivers and blasting highways along granite cliffs, other explosive manufacturing plants were opened—the Hercules at Pinole and the Trojan at Oakland.

In 1865 Thomas Selby, a San Francisco hardware merchant, built a tall tower at First and Howard Streets for the purpose of dropping lead shot. But the lead ore, mined in California and Nevada, had first to make the long trip to Europe for smelting.

Selby began to smelt the ore himself in a small plant in North Beach. The business grew and he moved, first to Black Point, then to Contra Costa County.

In 1905 the Selby plant was taken over by the American Smelting Company. Its tall chimney can be seen for miles around. Some of the ore from the famous mines of California and Nevada has been treated there—antimony, lead, silver, and gold, including all of the latter two metals needed by the United States Mint in San Francisco.

Another industry which had gained an early foothold in San Francisco was sugar refining. The story of how a German immigrant boy, Claus Spreckels, graduated from his small San Francisco grocery business to become a millionaire sugar tycoon is typical of the swashbuckling manner in which many robust San Francisco pioneers acquired fortune and fame.

Captain Cook, discovering the Sandwich Islands—later the Hawaiian Islands—in 1788, commented on the size and fine quality of the sugar cane he found growing there. Until Spreckels became interested, all the cane from the Islands passed through San Francisco on its way to the East to be refined. Acquiring an early interest in Hawaiian plantation lands when he won part of the island of Mauai in a poker game with Kalakaua, the island king, Spreckels built a refinery here in 1863.

Dissatisfied with results, he sold out and went to Germany, France, Austria, and Belgium to study the latest methods of refining. Returning to San Francisco, he built a second refinery. In 1882 he moved his plant to the water front at the foot of Twenty-third Street, where ships from the Islands could unload the cane directly into the refinery. There he installed improved methods of refining, and the plant, later enlarged and reorganized, remained the leading such concern in the Bay region for many years.

United States Mint, San Francisco, circa 1940’s.

The California and Hawaiian Sugar Refinery at Crockett in Contra Costa County, a comparatively late comer, has developed into a giant corporation that grows, mills, refines, and distributes—as sugar and sugar products—nearly 80 per cent of all the cane that comes from the Hawaiian Islands.

Men who had come to dig gold in California had remained to farm. Soon California’s fertile inland acres were sprouting the “green gold” for which the State was to become world famous.

Even before the great wheat farms of the 1870’s and 1880’s had been supplanted by fruit and vegetable ranches, a few men had foreseen that this “green gold” might be shipped to the whole world if only it could be preserved against perishability, and packaged.

In 1854 Daniel R. Provost, member of an Eastern fruit preserving firm, had stepped ashore in San Francisco to represent his company here. He rented a small building on Washington Street, where he repacked Eastern jellies in small glass containers.

Two years later Provost enlarged the business and began to make preserves and jellies from California fruits. This was the first time native fruit had been preserved commercially nn the Pacific Coast.

Francis Cutting came three years later. He went into the fruit and vegetable-preserving business on Sacramento Street, where his unusual window displays attracted hungry customers. He added tomatoes to his line of products and in 1860 received a shipment of Mason jars which were well received in San Francisco.

People began to refer to San Francisco as a fruit-packing center.

In 1862 Cutting received from Baltimore his first shipment of tin plate, at a cost of $16 a box. That year he shipped California canned fruit to the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, to the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia and to the Parker House in Boston.

Cutting canned 5,400 cases of California fruit in 1862.

California’s giant canning industry was born. In 1899 eleven pioneer companies merged to become the California Fruit Canners Association. The industry expanded rapidly.

San Francisco developed a luxury line of fruits and vegetables put up in glass containers and the Illinois Glass Company arrived in Oakland to provide the jars. Typical of the canning industry today is the California Packing Corporation—Calpak—the world’s largest canner of fruits and vegetables, with headquarters in San Francisco. Calpak owns and cultivates more than 100,000 acres in nine states, and its Del Monte label is known all over the world.

Food processing is today, the region’s largest single manufacturing industry.

Cable car, San Francisco’s most prized utility.

Despite the fact that no oil is produced within 300 miles of the Bay, the center of its oil industry, Contra Costa County, has developed, in the brief interval since a China-bound steamer sailed west with a cargo of oil in 1894, into the clearing house for one-eighth of the entire world’s supply of gasoline and petroleum products.

All the way from the San Joaquin Valley’s southern end, where oil was discovered late in the nineteenth century, pipes were laid to connect with Bay shore refineries.

Standard Oil was the first of the large companies to build one; its Richmond plant was opened soon after the first ferry connection was made with San Francisco. It put out one of the early wharves at Point Orient, linking the East Bay directly with the Far East by means of its tankers.

Today five of the world’s largest refineries overlook the water from San Pablo Bay’s southern shore.

Oil, canning, meat packing—these are the Bay region’s biggest industries. For the most part, their operations are centered across the Bay from San Francisco.

Long the West’s chief industrial center, the city itself had passed its zenith as a manufacturing center by the turn of the century. In its place, the East Bay came forward as factories found industrial sites cheaper and rail connections more convenient on the mainland.

The city of San Francisco itself assumed its present role of financial and marketing center for an industrial area embracing the whole Bay region—that of front office for the plants across the water. Although outranked in dollar value by both wholesale and retail trade, its manufacturing concerns nevertheless provide employment for more than 55,000 people, more than that provided by government, services, and retailing.

Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, Pine and Sansome streets.

Today, as she has been throughout her history, San Francisco is the largest banking center west of Chicago. In 1967 her three largest banks showed total deposits of more than $23 billion, ten billion dollars more than that shown by the largest banks of any other Pacific Coast city. The Bank of America, headquartered in San Francisco, is the largest bank in the world.

Along the shores of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties stretches an industrial belt of bewildering complexity. Alameda County alone contains the plants, warehouses, and subsidiaries of no less than 43 of the country’s 87 billion-dollar manufacturing corporations, with products ranging from light bulbs to sea-going freighters, from cookies and crackers to preserved dog food.

Three of the major automobile corporations long ago chose the East Bay as a prime location for assembly plants —General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—but it is the home, too, for more esoteric vehicle manufacturing.

Trucks of the Peterbilt Motors Company in Newark can be found on any highway in the United States, and the equipment produced by the Caterpillar Tractor Company of San Leandro can be found carving out roads and building dams from the Andes to the Far East.

In 1921 the Atlas Imperial Diesel Engine Company of Oakland built the first solid-injection marine Diesel engine to be manufactured with commercial success in America, and today the Union Diesel Engine Company, which has been building gas engines since 1885, remains one of the country’s leading producers.

Both the United States Steel Corporation and the Kaiser Steel Corporation maintain East Bay plants, and perhaps nothing more thoroughly typifies the region’s emergence as an industrial and commercial center than the Kaiser Corporation’s selection of Oakland for its world headquarters building in 1963.

Postwar development gave rise to industries previously seen in only Buck Rogers comic strips. Rarefied electronics manufacturing is one of the prime employers in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, and the aerospace industry—electrical machinery, ordnance, instruments—employs more than 70,000 people in the entire Bay Area.

Equally symptomatic of postwar development are the atomic research laboratories of the Sandia Corporation at Livermore and the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley—as well as the linear accelerator operating near Stanford.

And for all this San Francisco remains the financial hub.

The Flood Building, Market and Powell Streets, Erected 1918, circa 1920’s.
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