Clay Street Hill Railroad

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Clay Street Hill Railroad
LocationClay Street, San Francisco
BuiltAugust 1, 1873
DemolishedFebruary 15, 1942
Official nameEastern terminus of the Clay Street Hill Railroad[1]
Reference no.500

The Clay Street Hill Railroad was the first successful cable hauled street railway. It was located on Clay Street, a notably steep street in San Francisco in California, United States, and first operated in August 1873.


The promoter of the line was Andrew Smith Hallidie, and the engineer was William Eppelsheimer. Accounts differ as to exactly how involved Hallidie was in the inception of the Clay Street Hill Railway. One version[2] has him taking over the promotion of the line when the original promoter, Benjamin Brooks, failed to raise the necessary capital. In another version,[3] Hallidie was the instigator, inspired by a desire to reduce the suffering incurred by the horses that hauled streetcars up Jackson Street, from Kearny to Stockton Street.

There is also doubt as to when exactly the first run of the cable car occurred. The franchise required a first run no later than August 1, 1873. However, at least one source[2] reports that the run took place a day late, on August 2, but the city chose not to void the franchise. Some accounts say that the first gripman hired by Hallidie looked down the steep hill from Jones and refused to operate the car, so Hallidie took the grip himself and ran the car down the hill and up again without any problems.

Clay St. Hill RR Co. No.8 at the San Francisco Cable Car Museum (2007)

The Clay Street line started regular service on September 1, 1873 and was a financial success. In 1888, it was absorbed into the Sacramento-Clay line of the Ferries and Cliff House Railway, and it subsequently became a small part of the San Francisco cable car system. Today none of the original line survives. However grip car 8 from the line has been preserved, and is now displayed in the San Francisco Cable Car Museum.[4]


The line involved the use of grip cars, which carried the grip that engaged with the cable, towing trailer cars. The design was the first to use such grips.


CHL #500: eastern terminus of first cable car system

The railroad was designated as California Historical Landmark #500, with the landmark marker being placed in Portsmouth Square at the site of its eastern terminus near the corner of Clay Street and Kearny.[1]

In fiction[edit]

  • In the film Herbie Rides Again, Mrs. Steimetz owns a cable car from the Clay Street Hill Railroad, which she calls "Old 22".



  1. ^ a b "Eastern terminus of the Clay Street Hill Railroad". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
  2. ^ a b Joe Thompson (1998-2004). Who Was Important in the History of the Cable Car?. Retrieved May 27, 2005.
  3. ^ Edgar Myron Kahn (1940). California Historical Society Quarterly - Andrew Smith Hallidie Archived 2011-05-17 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved May 27, 2005.
  4. ^ "About the San Francisco Cable Car Museum". Friends of the Cable Car Museum. Retrieved 2008-07-01.


  1. Callwell, Robert; Rice, Walter (2000). Of Cables and Grips: The Cable Cars of San Francisco. San Francisco, Calif.: Friends of the Cable Car Museum. OCLC 49420796.