Since the area was first settled in 1776, San Francisco has evolved to become one of the world’s greatest tech hubs, especially for startups. It’s a major transformation that originated from humble beginnings, when a single military fort was constructed by Spanish Captain Juan Bautista de Anza, who used it as part of his efforts to support Mission Dolores.
You can’t Google “When was San Francisco founded?” without seeing Mission Dolores appear in your results, as it really was an integral part of the city’s making. In fact, it was the Spanish settlers who were involved in Mission Delores that gave San Francisco its name, referring to their new location as Mission San Francisco de Asís.
Many people debate the meaning behind San Francisco’s name origin, but it refers to Saint Francis, the Italian Catholic friar, deacon and preacher. This makes sense, since the area was settled by Spanish missionaries who were devout followers of the Catholic faith.
Eventually, in the mid 1800s, the fort was overtaken by the U.S. Army. This occurred at the same time California became an official state. The United States military felt that San Francisco Bay should be better defended, and as such, decided to construct three coastal defenses in an attempt to strengthen their palisades.
But it wasn’t until Russian ships and other vessels began entering San Francisco Bay to trade meat and grains that the city of San Francisco as we know it today began to form.
Establishing The City of San Francisco
San Francisco in the 1800s was nothing like it is today. When Jean Jacques Vioget was hired to plot the first map of the town (which would later become the city), there were only 30-40 residents who lived in the area permanently— most of whom were military captains and their families.
But growth became inevitable when a gentleman by the name of James W. Marshall discovered gold in 1848. His discovery created such a buzz, that the news travelled all the way to New York City, resulting in hundreds of people relocating to the area to pursue better economic opportunities.
By 1948, there were 25,000 people living in San Francisco, thriving as a result of gold mining operations.
Soon after, silver deposits were also found nearby, opening the doors for further mining exploration. With both gold and silver mines offering new jobs and prosperity, the population of old San Francisco boomed, with 150,000 residents being accounted for in 1870.
This phase of San Francisco history is crucial— especially when you want to understand how the city became the money-making machine it is today.
In 1906, San Francisco was hit by an earthquake, resulting in devastating fires that lasted four days. 80 percent of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed, and 3,000 people lost their lives. While many communities would have been irreparably damaged by such a catastrophic event, San Francisco was able to overcome the adversity it faced.
This was partly due to considerable infrastructure projects like the construction of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge (opened in 1936) and the Golden Gate Bridge (in 1937). But the biggest economic boost came as a result of World War II.
The second World War played a monumental role in San Francisco history. The city served as a supply point and ship port during this time, with more than 1,400 vessels being constructed in the bay itself.
In addition to ship-building, World War II brought an influx of people to the SF area. In total, 1,647,174 passengers, including soldiers, sailors, Marines and civilians like Red Cross personnel, boarded ships in San Francisco and headed out to the Pacific. More specifically, two-thirds of all the troops sent to the Pacific in World War II passed through San Francisco, creating more hustle and bustle than ever before.
This is where we get into the heart of San Francisco’s background as a global centre for technological advancement.
In 1939, two men, William Hewlett and Dave Packard, founded the Hewlett Packard company, which originally produced oscilloscopes from a small car garage. Of course, as we all know now, Hewlett Packard would go on to become a Fortune 500 company.
But the greatest impetus of San Francisco’s tech boom came in the 1960’s, when the very first Internet system, then referred to as ARPANET, was established at the Stanford Research Institute, as a result of efforts by the US military to develop more sophisticated government technologies.
This led to a tech expansion in San Francisco in the 1960s, with companies like Xerox putting down routes in the area, and technologies like the microprocessor and the microcomputer were being developed by talented engineers from Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology.
The success of these ventures sparked the interest of corporate investors, leading to an influx of cash, which contributed to the creation of Silicon Valley as we know it today. In fact, major tech giants like Atari, Apple, and Oracle were all founded in SF around this time.
The Internet Boom
You can’t paint an accurate picture of San Francisco history without including the massive impact the emergence of the Internet had on its success. Microsoft released Internet Explorer in 1996, which excluded any other company from developing a web browser for the Windows operating system.
Soon after, companies like Yahoo and Google were formed, with Google securing $25 million in investments to further develop their search technology. Eventually, the Internet became faster, more accessible, and more sophisticated, as high-speed fibre-optic cable was introduced and file sharing became the norm.
The Silicon Valley We Know Today
Major corporate brands like Facebook, Wells Fargo, Netflix, Dropbox, and AirBnB all operate from the San Francisco area, making it the nerve centre of today’s most high-tech developments, and a driving force of North American culture. And when you consider that in 2017, the San Francisco’s GDP amounted to $500.71 billion US, it becomes undeniable that the story of how this city came to be is one of triumph.