Cable cars of my grandfather

Recommended encyclopedia entry

Little did I know, but cable cars are part of my past. A history shared by San Francisco and Hong Kong.

In Cities & People, Mark Girouard writes, “The cable-car was invented in San Francisco in the 1870s to deal with the appalling gradients caused by applying the grid street system to a hilly city, and was adopted by a number of cities built on flat or relatively flat ground, such as Chicago (from 1882) and Melbourne (from 1885).” The first cable cars / trams of Hong Kong subsequently embarked in 1904.

[Sidenote: I found my copy of Cities & People at the awesome used bookstore Green Apple Books in SF’s Inner Richmond.]

I find it sad that I never once asked my family, until two years ago, the profession of my grandfather. He was the lovely older man who would walk for miles to buy my favorite 蛋挞 (dan ta, or egg tart) when we visited family in Hong Kong. We were foreign grandchildren, born away from the home city. Stranger level regardless — I loved the Hong Kong tram. The narrow, double decker cars were streamlined, destinatory, beautiful with advertisements. I didn’t realize until a couple years ago that my grandfather worked on those cable cars, those trams, maintaining them. And I didn’t realize until — earlier today, flipping through some books — that cable cars were first invented in San Francisco.

Well-adapted to the steep hills of SF and HK… yeah, that makes sense.


Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

[Do you think kids these days can even spell “encyclopedia”? Or maybe the question should be, how do I type a diphthong???]



The cable car, the invention of Andrew Hallidie, was introduced in San Francisco on Sacramento and Clay streets in 1873. The cars were drawn by an endless cable running in a slot between the rails and passing over a steam-driven shaft in the powerhouse. The system was well-adapted for operation on steep hills and reached its most extensive use in San Francisco and Seattle.
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