The driving force behind the San Francisco cable car system came from a man who witnessed a horrible accident on a typically damp summer day in 1869. Andrew Smith Hallidie saw how the toll slippery grades could extract when a horse-drawn streetcar slid backwards under its heavy load. The steep slope with wet cobblestones and a heavily weighted vehicle combined to drag five horses to their deaths.

Although such a sight would stun anyone, Hallidie and his partners had the know-how to do something about the problem. Hallidie was born in England and moved to the U.S. in 1852. His father filed the first patent in Great Britain for the manufacture of wire-rope. As a young man, Hallidie found uses for this technology in California’s Gold Country. He used the wire-rope when designing and building a suspension bridge across Sacramento’s American River. He also found another use for the wire-rope when pulling heavy ore cars out of the underground mines on tracks.

The technology was in place for pulling cable cars. The next step bringing Hallidie closer to his fate was moving his wire-rope manufacturing plant to San Francisco. All that was now needed was seeing the accident for the idea to become the full blown cable car railway system to deal with San Francisco’s fearsome hills. Thus on August 2 1873, Andrew Hallidie tested the first cable car system near the top of Nob Hill at Clay and Jones Streets.