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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Nomann

SF Cable Car Trivia: How'd you do?

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

1.) What city has the world’s last manually operated cable car system, a tramway whose cars are pulled along by cables embedded in the street?

San Francisco:

The San Francisco cable car system is the world's last manually operated cable car system running in street traffic. Of the 23 lines established between 1873 and 1890, only three remain (one of which combines parts of two earlier lines): two routes from downtown near Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf, and a third route along California Street.

Several cities operate a modern version of the cable car system but these systems are fully automated and run on their own reserved right of way. They are commonly referred to as people movers.

2.) Who was the inventor of cable cars?

Andrew Smith Hallidie:

The cable car was invented in San Francisco by a mining engineer, Andrew S. Hallidie. One morning, Hallidie witnessed horses struggle to pull a passenger rail car up one of San Francisco’s steep hills and decided to adapt his mining conveyor technology to pull rail cars by means of an endless loop of cable under the street between the tracks.

3.) What is the name of the film that featured Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda riding an SF cable car?

Yours, Mine and Ours:

The 1968 film Yours, Mine and Ours is a comedic love story that features Lucille Ball as Helen North, and Henry Fonda as Frank Beardsley. Both widowers, they reveal on their first date while riding a San Francisco cable car that she has 8 children and he has 10. They decide a second date is a no-go but the connection just can’t be stopped.

4.) What business’ cable conveyance technology inspired the SF cable car’s functionality?


Andrew S. Hallidie, an English-born engineer and businessman, immigrated to the U.S. in 1852 during the Gold Rush. His father was also an inventor who had a patent in Great Britain for "wire rope" cable. Andrew began using this cable in a system he had developed to haul ore from mines to create the underground pulley system for the cable cars and in building suspension bridges.

5.) How much did it cost to ride the SF cable cars when they first opened?

5 cents:

Riding a cable car today is $8 for a single ride, with a special $4 senior rate during specific hours. In the 1960s single ride fares were only 15 cents and in 1873, it was 5 cents a ride.

6.) What product prominently featured the SF cable cars and is known as “The San Francisco Treat”?


In 1958, the DeDomenico family migrated from Italy to San Francisco and created Rice-A-Roni in their Mission District kitchen based on an old Armenian dish consisting of rice, vermicelli pasta, and chicken broth. The product was launched with a jingle written by Robert Pritikin and a commercial that featured the cable cars and their iconic bell clang. Versions of the commercial ran periodically from the 1960s thru the 1990s.

7.) What is the name of the song that includes the lyric “To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars”?

I Left My Heart In San Francisco:

Tony Bennett, born in Queens, considered San Francisco his second home, and released I Left My Heart in San Francisco in 1962. Written in 1953 by Douglass Cross (lyrics) and George Cory (music), the song was intended for Claramae Turner, who often used it as an encore, but she never got around to recording it. The song found its way to Bennett through Ralph Sharon, Bennett's longtime accompanist. Sharon brought the music along when he and Bennett were on tour and their first performance was at the Venetian Room in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. It has been sung by a wide variety of artists over the decades but Bennett’s version is the most iconic.

8.) What transit agency operates the SF cable cars today?

Muni (San Francisco Municipal Railway):

In the early days of cable cars, routes were owned and operated by several different companies. Today the San Francisco Municipal Railway, known as Muni, operates the 3 cable car lines as well as 54 bus lines, 17 trolley bus lines, 7 light rail lines that operate above ground and in the city's lone subway tube (called Muni Metro), and 2 heritage streetcar lines.

9.) In 1888 electric streetcars were introduced in SF as a less expensive public transportation option to build and operate compared to cable cars. But the electric streetcars did not replace all of the cable cars. Why?

Streetcars did not have enough power to make it up steep SF hills:

After the 1906 earthquake and fires, the electric streetcar, perfected in1888 by Frank Sprague, had become the vehicle of choice for city transit. It required half the investment to build and maintain, could reach more areas, and it was faster. However, only the cable cars were able to traverse the steep hills of San Francisco, so some of the lines were rebuilt.

10.) What year did the first cable car run in San Francisco?


Conceived in 1869, after seeing horses struggle to pull a rail car up Jackson Street, Andrew S. Hallidie tested the first cable car at 4 o'clock in the morning, August 2, 1873, on San Francisco's Clay Street. Hallidie entered into a partnership to form the Clay Street Hill Railroad who began public service on September 1, 1873.

11.) How fast do SF cable cars go?

9 to 9.5 mph:

The cable cars are pulled by a cable running below the street, held by a grip that extends from the car through a slit in the street surface, between the rails. Each cable runs at a constant speed of 9.5 miles per hour, driven by a 510 horsepower electric motor located in the central powerhouse, via a set of self-adjusting sheaves. To start and stop the movement of the car, the gripman closes and opens the grip around the cable. The grip's jaws exert a pressure of up to 30,000 pounds per square inch on the cable.

Get a piece of San Francisco history.

Thanks for taking our quiz, we would like to give you a $25 Credit: QUIZ 25

to use towards an actual piece of SF Cable Car Track that is over 100 years old.


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