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The San Francisco Earthquake and Fire - 1906

Arthur C. Pillsbury - From his unfinished Autobiography

After my Alaskan experiences, I started getting scenic pictures in California, specializing in the Missions, Yosemite, the High Sierra and the Lake Tahoe regions, then I met Mr. Williams, manager of the Examiner, and he offered me a position in charge of the photographic department of the S.F. Examiner, which I held for three years resigning and forming my own Pillsbury Picture Co. a month before the Great Fire and Earth Quake in April 1906. At that time my home in Oakland was all fitted up with developing and printing rooms.  

The morning of April 18th was a memorable one. The earth quake shook me out of bed. It did some light damage to the house. I grabbed my cameras and started for San Francisco. Fortunately I had saved my press badge when I left the Examiner and knowing all the police in the city I could go everywhere. That Wednesday I covered the entire city, making 5 X 7 Graflex views and panoramas of the burning city. It happened I was the only professional photographer who pictured the burning city.  

My newspaper experience taught me what to take. Over 70 snap shots, and two panoramas one from the top of the Merchants Exchange Building covering the wholesale section and just at noon one from the top of the St. Francis Hotel showing almost the entire city in flames. This negative 44 inches long brought in from $500 to $700 a day while the excitement lasted some six weeks. 

 The Panorama exhausted the film available + I took it out of the camera and carried it in my pocket leaving the camera itself in the check room of the hotel. It burnt up that night. Among the snap shots was one of the burning of the Palace + Grand hotels. The heat was so great it scorched the lense making the balsum run spoiling it and the bellows soon dropped to pieces. Our home was the only place that had running water and dark rooms in those troublesome times and so was soon a busy factory. Sales men bought material in every city within 500 miles rushing it to us; Others filling orders. A set of pictures + a story was sent to every large paper in the U.S. and abroad. New cameras were telegraphed for and the smoking ruins pictured every angle.  

Note:  These photos blow up to 20 feet in length and there are hundreds of other photos of events during and after the event.