California was quickly granted statehood in 1850, and the U.S. military built Fort Point at the Golden Gate and a fort on Alcatraz Island to secure the San Francisco Bay. Silver discoveries, including the Comstock Lode in Nevada in 1859, further drove rapid population growth. With hordes of fortune seekers streaming through the city, lawlessness was common, and the Barbary Coast section of town gained notoriety as a haven for criminals, prostitution, and gambling.
In 2019, San Francisco was the county with the seventh-highest income in the United States, with a per capita income of $139,405. In the same year, San Francisco proper had a GDP of $203.5 billion, and a GDP per capita of $230,829. The CSA San Francisco shares with San Jose and Oakland, with a GDP of $1.09 trillion as of 2019, is the country’s third-largest urban economy, following New York City and Los Angeles. Of the 105 primary statistical areas in the U.S. with over 500,000 residents, this CSA had the highest GDP per capita in 2019, at $112,348. San Francisco was ranked 12th in the world and second in the United States on the Global Financial Centres Index as of March 2021.
The nearby San Andreas and Hayward Faults are responsible for much earthquake activity, although neither physically passes through the city itself. The San Andreas Fault caused the earthquakes in 1906 and 1989. Minor earthquakes occur on a regular basis. The threat of major earthquakes plays a large role in the city’s infrastructure development. The city constructed an auxiliary water supply system and has repeatedly upgraded its building codes, requiring retrofits for older buildings and higher engineering standards for new construction. However, there are still thousands of smaller buildings that remain vulnerable to quake damage. USGS has released the California earthquake forecast which models earthquake occurrence in California.
San Francisco was founded on June 29, 1776, when colonists from Spain established the Presidio of San Francisco at the Golden Gate and Mission San Francisco de Asís a few miles away, both named for Francis of Assisi. The California Gold Rush of 1849 brought rapid growth, making it the largest city on the West Coast at the time. San Francisco became a consolidated city-county in 1856. San Francisco’s status as the West Coast’s largest city peaked between 1870 and 1900, when around 25% of California’s population resided in the city proper. After three-quarters of the city was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was quickly rebuilt, hosting the Panama-Pacific International Exposition nine years later. In World War II, San Francisco was a major port of embarkation for service members shipping out to the Pacific Theater. It then became the birthplace of the United Nations in 1945. After the war, the confluence of returning servicemen, significant immigration, liberalizing attitudes, along with the rise of the “beatnik” and “hippie” countercultures, the Sexual Revolution, the Peace Movement growing from opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War, and other factors led to the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement, cementing San Francisco as a center of liberal activism in the United States. Politically, the city votes strongly along liberal Democratic Party lines.
San Francisco is a global city, a status that pre-dated the city’s popularity during the California Gold Rush. Such cities are characterized by their ethnic clustering, network of international connectivity, and convergence of technological innovation. Global cities, such as San Francisco, are considered to be complex and require a high level of talent as well as large masses of low wage workers. A divide is created within the city of ethnic, typically lower-class neighborhoods, and expensive ones with newly developed buildings. This in turn creates a population of highly educated, white-collar individuals as well as blue-collar workers, many of whom are immigrants, and who both are drawn to the increasing number of opportunities available. Competition for these opportunities pushes growth and adaptation in world centers.
The legacy of the California Gold Rush turned San Francisco into the principal banking and finance center of the West Coast in the early twentieth century. Montgomery Street in the Financial District became known as the “Wall Street of the West”, home to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the Wells Fargo corporate headquarters, and the site of the now-defunct Pacific Coast Stock Exchange. Bank of America, a pioneer in making banking services accessible to the middle class, was founded in San Francisco and in the 1960s, built the landmark modern skyscraper at 555 California Street for its corporate headquarters. Many large financial institutions, multinational banks, and venture capital firms are based in or have regional headquarters in the city. With over 30 international financial institutions, six Fortune 500 companies, and a large support infrastructure of professional services—including law, public relations, architecture and design—San Francisco is designated as an Alpha(-) World City. The 2017 Global Financial Centres Index ranked San Francisco as the sixth-most competitive financial center in the world.