Chimney Sweep

Chilling Pictures of San Francisco within the Aftermath

Down Angle Symbol A symbol in the form of an angle pointing downwards. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck the Northern California coast on April 18. “When San Francisco Burned” by Douglas L. Gist

  • On April 18, 1906, a violent 7.8 magnitude earthquake destroyed the city of San Francisco.
  • Almost 3,000 people died in the quake and the subsequent fires that spread across the sprawling urban area. A large proportion of San Francisco residents became homeless.
  • After the earthquake, Louis P. Selby, a local amateur photographer, took to the streets to document the aftermath. These and other photos have been preserved in the National Archives.
  • More than a century after the tragedy, Selby's photos were released to the public.

In the early morning hours of April 18, 1906, Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area awoke to an earth-shaking earthquake. Although the magnitude 7.8 earthquake only lasted a minute, it erupted 296 miles of California coastline and Its consequences devastated the region.

About 500 city blocks – containing more than 25,000 buildings – were destroyed, and rampant fires spread across the city and burned for three days. More than half of the city's residents were left homeless and 3,000 people died in the tremors and subsequent fires.

Read more: Why science says San Francisco is a nightmare

Louis P. Selby, an amateur photographer, was working in his family's pastry shop on Market Street when the greatest natural disaster to ever strike San Francisco occurred. Selby grabbed a camera and took to the streets to document the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake.

More than a century later, Selby's grandson published the never-before-seen photos in a book: “When San Francisco Burned: A Photographic Memoir of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906.”.”

Here's what happened 103 years ago in San Francisco, captured through the lens of a local pastry chef.

The 1906 earthquake remains the most devastating disaster San Francisco has ever experienced.

“When San Francisco Burned” by Douglas L. Gist

There is a greater than 75% chance of a magnitude 7.0 earthquake occurring in the San Francisco Bay Area within the next 30 years, according to experts at the US Geological Survey.

Melia Robinson contributed to an earlier version of this story.

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