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Photos: The Great Quake of 1906

Photographs taken by Jack London show the devastation of the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires.
By Bill Detwiler, Contributor on
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Charmian London's diary

After the San Francisco earthquake struck on the morning of April 18, 1906, Jack London and his wife Charmian traveled from Sonoma County to San Francisco and then to Oakland and Fort Bragg to record the devastation with both photos and words.

This April 18 entry from Charmian London's diary describes their experiences. The word "Earthquake" is scribbled in red above the date. "Mate and I spent night in burning streets," she wrote, referring to her husband. "Napped on doorstep till dawn."

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Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa, which is located in Sonoma County about 50 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, suffered severe damage during the earthquake. In this photo, townspeople survey collapsed buildings downtown.

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refugee camp

One of the refugee camps that accommodated displaced people after the earthquake and subsequent fires. More than 200,000 people were left homeless following the disaster.

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Jack and Charmian London

Jack and Charmian London were married not long before the 1906 earthquake. Jack admired Charmian's courage and strength. She rode a horse astride, when few women were riding horses at all, and assisted him as a typist with his writing and correspondence.

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San Francisco

The earthquake that shook San Francisco on April 18, 1906, is considered one of the worst natural disasters to affect a major city in the U.S. More than 80 percent of the city was destroyed by the tremors and subsequent fires.

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City Hall

The earthquake caused San Francisco's poorly constructed City Hall to collapse. Only the dome and its steel superstructure remained. It would take another 10 years until the new City Hall opened its doors.

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balloon

This photograph, taken from a tethered balloon five weeks after the great earthquake of April 18, 1906, shows the devastation brought on the city of San Francisco by the quake and subsequent fire. The view is looking over Nob Hill toward the business district and the distant Mission.

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Bolinas

This picture, taken near Bolinas in Marin County by G.K. Gilbert, shows a fence that was offset about 8.5 feet along the trace of the fault.

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train

The impact of the earthquake caused a train at Point Reyes Station at Tomales Bay to lurch first one way, then the other, then threw the whole train on its side.

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