The San Francisco area was first settled at least 15,000 years ago by the Ohlone Indians, who lived in the coastal area between San Francisco Bay and Point Sur. They thrived in a region where abundant wildlife, native plants, and fish provided sustenance for their villages. In 1579, Sir Francis Drake and his crew arrived on the Golden Hind, and spent five weeks repairing the ship and meeting with the natives. The Spanish found the entrance to the bay in 1769, and by 1776, the first colonizing party arrived to found the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission Dolores.
San Francisco was a tiny settlement before the Gold Rush of 1849. Seemingly overnight, people streamed in from around the world to get to the gold fields. The Gold Rush brought a wild, boisterous crowd. Places like the Barbary Coast, a notorious saloon and red-light district along the piers, flourished.
After the rush was over, many prospectors returned from the gold fields and settled in the city, realizing that fortunes could be made just as well there. Mercantile establishments, small industries, and shipping to the Orient brought prosperity to the newcomers. San Francisco grew and attracted a colorful array of characters. Famous writers such as Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, and Mark Twain congregated here. And John Muir began the Sierra Club here in 1892.
In a city of unique individuals, one particularly stood out--Emperor Norton. Having lost his mind along with his fortune through a bad investment, he had proclaimed: "At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States." For the rest of his life, the city complied with his edicts, many of which were quite sound. When he died in 1880, between 10,000 and 30,000 people were reported to have attended his funeral.
In 1869, the first westbound train arrived in San Francisco, and in 1870, San Francisco had become the tenth largest city in the United States. A large Chinese population of laborers recruited in the 1840s and 1850's had settled there. Irish immigrants settled into the Mission area and French, Italian, German, Russian, Australian, Jewish and many other nationalities contributed to the city's international flair.
The 1906 Earthquake and fire devastated the city. But with its characteristic spirit, the city rebuilt itself--into a grander city than even before. And it was no surprise that it would conceive and execute the impossible--the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge--one of the world's longest suspension bridges-- over icy-cold, shark infested waters. It has the highest bridge towers ever made.
Civic mindedness, a tolerant spirit, and openness have continued to be the characteristic of the people of the City. After World War II, returning gay soldiers found a safe haven here. The heart of the 60's movement in the Haight-Ashbury brought talents like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Janis Joplin. Today, new waves of immigrants, particularly from Russia and Central America, are changing the face of the city.