And while every other city abandoned cable cars in favor of streetcars and other conveyances, San Francisco has kept using them because of their charm and because they're great for taking people over the steep hills.
The great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed many of the carbarns that operated and maintained the cars, including the building that currently houses the Cable Car Museum.
Today, there are three lines in San Francisco, all of which run out of a single barn near Chinatown. Seen here, the Powell and Market line carries a carload of riders east along Washington Street.
Muni runs 28 cars on the two Powell Street lines and another 12 on the California Street lines.
This is one of the California Street cable cars. These feature open trailers on both ends of the car, are 30 feet, 3 inches long, and 8 feet wide. They weigh 16,800 pounds and can handle 68 people, with 34 seated.
Halladie's father had patents on wire rope cables, and the younger man began testing a new system on August 2, 1873, that incorporated equipment he'd developed in order to haul gold ore from mines during the Gold Rush.
The system was difficult to use and often caused problems, such as bucking in the grip, and even the occasional cable car jumping off the line.
The gripman can determine the speed and control of the cable car by how much strength he or she uses to grip the cable. If it is gripped loosely, the cable will slide through the grip, meaning that the car is pulled slowly. And if the grip is tightly clamped on to the cable, the car goes at the same speed as the cable, which is 9.5 miles an hour.
"Operating the grip requires a degree of practice and a tremendous amount of strength," the museum's sign reads. "The 327-pound grip has no markings indicating the amount of grip the jaws have on the rope. Each position must be felt by the gripman."
Here, we see two cars, Sutter Street Dummy No. 46 and Trailer No. 54. No. 54 used to be pulled by horses before the mechanized dummies came along. In addition, the trailer was featured in the 1938 San Francisco World's Fair on Treasure Island.
"The truck alone, without the wooden body, could travel the rails. The body merely provides shelter and seating for the riders as well as creating the look of the car. The truck and body together weigh about 6 tons."
This is a standard Muni truck, but in the early days of cable cars, from 1880 to 1906, there were nine companies operating 22 cable car lines in San Francisco. Each operator utilized different track gauges in order to prevent the other operators from using their lines. That meant each truck had different widths. Muni standardized the system in 1956.
According to the museum, "each cable has its own electric motor, which turns the driving sheave by means of a gear reducer. Each gear reducer contains three pairs of gears, which allow the sheave to turn at a slower speed than the motor.
The driving and idler sheaves work in conjunction to move the cable under the streets. The motor powers the driving sheave, which moves in the opposite direction from the idler sheave, which offers more surface contact for the cable, according to the museum. "As the cable loops in a figure-eight pattern, there is more friction on the cable, and the friction between the cable and sheaves allows the cable to move."
This model is of the Market Street Cable Railway Company's railway post office car, from the 1890s.
"During the late 1890s, the U.S. Postal Service, in cooperation with various railway companies, developed the 'railway post office car.' RPO cars were in service long before the use of trucks or other vehicles to deliver mail. These cars performed several jobs, including mail delivery and collection from mail boxes and in-route mail sorting. Pedestrians were able to flag down an RPO car and drop mail into the slots provided on either side of the car."