Clio Logo

The Cable Car Museum was established in 1974. It is operated by the Friends of the Cable Car Museum as a nonprofit educational facility. The museum describes the history of the cable cars in San Francisco and how this mode of transportation continues to work today. The Cable Car Museum contains historical information, antique cable cars for view, and more. The museum store offers a variety of cable car memorabilia, books, clothing, cards, and even genuine cable car bells.


  • San Francisco's Cable Car Museum entrance.
  • Andrew Smith Hallidie - inventor of the cable car and father of the present day San Francisco cable car system.
  • San Francisco cable car number 10 heading south on Hyde St, crossing Chestnut St, with Hyde St Pier and Alcatraz Island in the background. "10 Cable Car on Hyde St" by jjron. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons .
  • An interior view of the power house. "San Francisco Cable Car Power House" by Caroline Culler (Wgreaves). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
  • A view of the controls inside Cable Car No. 58
  • "Historic cable car tokens from the San Francisco Cable car museum" by Jaredzimmerman (WMF). Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Cable car railways thrived in American cities for the twenty years from 1873 to 1893, operating more than 300 miles of track by the early 1890’s. San Francisco, site of the first cable railway, accounted for fully one-fourth of this mileage. Today only San Francisco’s 4.7 miles of cable railway survive. This system is the last remnant of a transportation technology that played an important role in expanding urban mass transportation facilities and which served as an intermediate step between the horse-drawn streetcar and the electric trolley.

Behind this story is Andrew Smith Hallidie who was born in 1836 in London to Scottish parents. Hallidie's father was an inventor who had a patent in Great Britain for "wire rope" cable. Hallidie immigrated to the U.S. in 1852 during the Gold Rush. He was not a very successful gold miner and had several very close shaves with death while looking for gold, such as a landslide, a forest fire, and a premature explosion in a shaft. When he gave up mining, he returned to San Francisco and started manufacturing wire rope. Among the many patents that Hallidie registered was the "Hallidie Ropeway (or Tramway)", a transportation device operating on a line that could be used in mountainous and hilly areas. Constantly working on improving his invention, he developed a steel cable. He soon improved it even more by installing propelling cables underground. From there, he was but one step from developing the cable car.  

However, the road to implementing his ingenious invention was long and difficult. Hallidie had to overcome very strong opposition from those who did not believe the cable car could work. Had he not been so determined and had he not invested all his savings ($20,000) in carrying out his project, San Francisco horses may have had to haul heavy cars up steep streets a lot longer. Fortunately, his will prevailed. The first test run was performed on August 2, 1873. Most accounts report that when the driver (called a grip man) looked down the hill he refused to operate the car. However, Hallidie took the grip in his hand and ran the car down the street safely. Later, cable cars were introduced in other American cities and Hallidie finally got due recognition.

 San Francisco's cable car system was first created to deal with the city's fearsome hills and can be found in Downtown, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and Fisherman's Wharf. The attraction of these cable cars is their antique appearance, ringing bells, and the supposedly "mysterious" way the cable cars travel up and down the steep hills of San Francisco. The system is also operated mannually just like in past centuries.  The two main lines, Powell‐Mason and Powell‐Hyde, start at the Powell/Market St. turntable and are the most popular for visitors to San Francisco. Riders on the Powell‐Hyde line will get a chance to view the famously crooked Lombard St. from above. The California St. line runs through the Financial District and is used mostly by city commuters. 

About. Cable Car Museum. Accessed March 26, 2017. http://www.cablecarmuseum.org/museum.html.

Marocchi, Andrea. CABLEWAYS FOR URBAN TRANSPORTATIION:: HIISTORY,, STATE OF THE ART AND FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS. OITAF. Accessed March 26, 2017. http://www.oitaf.org/Kongress%202011/Referate/Marocchi.pdf.

San Francisco Cable Car History. Cable Car Guy. Accessed March 26, 2017. http://www.cable-car-guy.com/pdf/1histdata.pdf.

Reynolds, Christopher. San Francisco's Famed Cable Cars. Transit Coalition. July 21, 2013. Accessed March 26, 2017. http://www.thetransitcoalition.us/newspdf/lat20130721a.pdf.