Jules Verne’s adventure story was published in 1873. Phileas Fogg of London and his French valet, Passepartout, attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager (roughly £2.25 million today) set by his friends at the Reform Club.
While we might have 80 days ahead of us in lock-down with the CoVid-19 coronavirus, this doesn’t mean we can’t travel – the internet at least.
At the time of his arrival, San Francisco was a very different place to the one we might visit today. Three-quarters of the city was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire but quickly rebuilt. So what we see today didn’t exist in the 1870s.
San Francisco was only founded in 1776, when colonists from Spain established a Presidio and Mission dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought rapid growth, making it the largest city on the West Coast at the time.
The California Gold Rush brought a flood of treasure seekers (known as “forty-niners”, as in “1849”). With their sourdough bread in tow, prospectors accumulated in San Francisco over rival Benicia, raising the population from 1,000 in 1848 to 25,000 by December 1849. The promise of great wealth was so strong that crews on arriving vessels deserted and rushed off to the gold fields, leaving behind a forest of masts in San Francisco harbour. Some of these approximately 500 abandoned ships were used at times as storeships, saloons and hotels; many were left to rot and some were sunk to establish title to the underwater lot. By 1851 the harbour was extended out into the bay by wharves while buildings were erected on piles among the ships. By 1870 Yerba Buena Cove had been filled to create new land. Buried ships are occasionally exposed when foundations are dug for new buildings.
California was quickly granted statehood in 1850, and the U.S. military built Fort Point at the Golden Gate and a fort on Alcatraz Island to secure the San Francisco Bay. Silver discoveries, including the Comstock Lode in Nevada in 1859, further drove rapid population growth. With hordes of fortune seekers streaming through the city, lawlessness was common, and the Barbary Coast section of town gained notoriety as a haven for criminals, prostitution, and gambling.
Entrepreneurs sought to capitalize on the wealth generated by the Gold Rush. Early winners were the banking industry, with the founding of Wells Fargo in 1852 and the Bank of California in 1864. Development of the Port of San Francisco and the establishment in 1869 of overland access to the eastern US rail system via the newly completed Pacific Railroad (the construction of which the city only reluctantly helped support) helped make the Bay Area a centre for trade. Catering to the needs and tastes of the growing population, Levi Strauss opened a dry goods business and Domingo Ghirardelli began manufacturing chocolate. Chinese immigrants made the city a polyglot culture, drawn to “Old Gold Mountain”, creating the city’s Chinatown quarter. In 1870, Asians made up 8% of the population. The first cable cars carried San Franciscans up Clay Street in 1873. The city’s sea of Victorian houses began to take shape, and civic leaders campaigned for a spacious public park, resulting in plans for Golden Gate Park. San Franciscans built schools, churches, theatres, and all the hallmarks of civic life. The Presidio developed into the most important American military installation on the Pacific coast.
San Francisco’s status as the West Coast’s largest city peaked between 1870 and 1900, when around 25% of California’s population lived in the city proper.
As you might imagine, San Francisco has a vast number of radio stations (https://tunein.com/search/?query=san%20francisco) so recommending one is nearly impossible, especially if you are hoping for an authentic music sound for the day. Check out Peter Finch’s “Stories from San Francisco and beyond”.