A Brief History
San Francisco’s strength as an international center for commerce and innovation is rooted in its dynamic, eclectic past. The City started life as several small villages for the Ohlone tribe. Although Europeans had explored the area since the 1500’s, it wasn’t until the late 1700’s that they began to establish permanent posts. After the creation of an original Spanish fort, the Mission San Francisco de Asis built a chapel and residency at what was to be known as San Francisco. Mexican independence in 1821 ended Spanish ownership of the outpost and, joining the United States with California in 1848, San Francisco was poised for what was arguably the most profound in the City’s many waves of economic growth—gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento. As the commercial and cultural center of the ensuing rush, San Francisco’s population doubled every ten days. Hopeful miners poured in from every corner of the globe and aspiring tradesmen and entrepreneurs like the tailor Levi Strauss and confectioner Dominic Ghirardelli joined them. It was in the City of San Francisco, not in the mines, that the rush’s lasting fortunes were built.
By 1865 San Francisco’s urban landscape was covered by some 15,000 buildings. The Cliff House and Wells Fargo Bank had opened for business and St. Ignatius College, predecessor to the University of San Francisco, conferred its first degree. Coming from Virginia City’s silver boom to work at San Francisco’s Morning Call newspaper, a young Mark Twain wrote, “ I fell in love with the most cordial and sociable City in the Union. After the sage brush and alkali deserts of the Washoe, San Francisco was a paradise to me.” With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the City was transformed into the most important military base in the west and—so important to her prosperity—as the American gateway to Asia. Author Gray Brechin said, “San Francisco by 1899 is the undisputed leader, urban center of the far west. It’s a period of great optimism for San Francisco. They feel that everything is going their way, and nothing can go wrong or stop them from their destiny of becoming the Paris of the Pacific.” When San Francisco almost burned to the ground many times during the late nineteenth century, City fathers adopted the phoenix as its symbol. And though the devastating firestorm that followed the 1906 earthquake nearly destroyed the City, hardy San Franciscans had most of it rebuilt in time to host the successful 1915 Pan-Pacific Exhibition.
San Francisco’s financial district continued to grow. Its strength and optimism were exemplified during the 1929 stock market crash when, despite the bankruptcy of financial institutions everywhere, not a single San Francisco-based bank failed. In the ensuing Great Depression, San Franciscans again rolled up their sleeves to create two of the world’s most famous public works structures, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge—both built using City bonds, the last of which were paid off in the 1970’s. After the explosive growth of the WWII era came another period of renewal and creativity that was to lay the foundations of San Francisco’s massive talent and innovation-based economic growth to come. The City—so famous for its energy and tolerance—attracted Beat Generation personalities such as Jack Kerouac and gave rise to the beatnik and hippie movements, the 1967 “Summer of Love,” and the flowering of cultural and scientific innovation at Bay Area colleges and universities that was to help drive the world economy in decades to come.
In the 1990s, San Francisco became the center of a new “gold rush,” home of many dot-com businesses which invigorated the economic climate. Companies sprouted up and with them came phenomenal job growth. After the rough readjustment of 2001, with the solid dot-com companies that prevailed on stable footing and with strong growth in key modern sectors like life sciences, cleantech and professional services, San Francisco continues to capitalize on its brilliant workforce, its sophisticated technological and transportation infrastructures, and its incomparable quality of life to create a strong economy and an ideal place for businesses to thrive. San Francisco remains a hub for the technology sectors with industry leaders such as Craigslist, Dropbox, Twitter, Yelp, and Zynga choosing to headquarter their operations in San Francisco. Recently, there has been a rapid expansion of biotech, life sciences, and digital media companies choosing to locate in the Mission Bay and South of Market districts of San Francisco. The Bay Area is home to more than 1,377 bioscience companies, with San Francisco boasting superior research centers such as: the Gladstone Institute, California Institute of Regenerative Medicine(CIRM), UCSF, and QB3; this large cluster of innovation serves as reason why more biosciences companies are located within Northern California, than anywhere in the world.