Rudyard Kipling Rides the Cable Car

Long before he became world famous as the author of Captains Courageous, Just So Stories, Jungle Book and other classic novels, Rudyard Kipling visited San Francisco. It was 1889. He was 24 years old and returning to England from India where he worked as a newspaper reporter. In a letter subsequently published in the Allahabad Pioneer, he described his experiences in the city, including this ride on a cable car.

Cable cars on Powell and Sutter streets, 1896.
To the left on Nob Hill can be seen the Leland Stanford (left) 
and Mark Hopkins (right) mansions.

The cable-cars have for all practical purposes made San Francisco a dead level. They take no count of rise or fall, but slide equably on their appointed courses from one end to the other of a six-mile street. They turn corners almost at right angles; cross other lines and, for aught I know, may run up the sides of houses. There is no visible agency of their flight, but once in a while you shall pass a five-storied building humming with machinery that winds up an everlasting wire-cable, and the initiated will tell you that here is the mechanism. I gave up asking questions. If it pleases Providence to make a car run up and down a slit in the ground for many miles, and if for twopence-halfpenny I can ride in that car, why should I seek the reasons of the miracle? Rather let me look out of the windows till the shops give place to thousands and thousands of little houses made of wood (to imitate stone)—each house just big enough for a man and his family. Let me watch the people in the cars and try to find out in what manner they differ from us their ancestors.

The above is an extract of an account in Malcolm E. Barker’s book, More San Francisco Memoirs: 1852-1899, The ripening years (Londonborn Publications, San Francisco, 1996).

Back ] Home ] Up ]