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California History Timeline
Important Dates, Events, and Milestones in California
Offers a chronological timeline of important dates, events, and milestones in California history.
California's earliest inhabitants were Asians who traveled the Bering Strait into North America using a now-vanished land bridge. More than 10,000 years ago, they settled throughout the region's diverse geographic areas and climates. Deserts and high mountains helped to separate these groups, and they lived peacefully in relative isolation from one another. Over many years, distinctive differences in lifestyle and culture developed among these groups, which included the Hupa, the Maidu, the Pomo, the Modic, and the Mohave tribes. More than 135 language dialects emerged.
The first Spanish missionaries arrived in California in the 1700s, but California didn't become a U.S. territory until 1847, as part of the treaty ending the Mexican-American War. Shortly thereafter, the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848 inspired a wave of settlers to head to the west coast in search of fortune. In 1850 California became the 31st state, and is now the third largest state behind Alaska and Texas.
16th Century California History Timeline
1510 - California is first used in a romance novel published in Spain 1510 and written by Garcia Ordońez de Montalvo, the translator of the Amadis de Gaul, and called Las Sergas de Esplandián, or "Adventures of Esplandian".
1533 - Two ships make their way northward from Tehuantepec and land at the very tip of Baja California at La Paz Harbor. Local residents kill 20 of the landing party and the ships retreat. For details of the early explorers,
1535 - Hernando Cortés leads a return expedition to La Paz and plants a small colony there. It fails after a couple of years and the settlers return to the mainland.
1539 - Francisco de Ulloa explores the gulf of California; he also rounds the tip of Baja and explores up its western coast.
1540 - Antonio de Mendoza, Viceroy of New Spain, sends a second sea expedition under Hernando de Alarcon up the Gulf of California where they enter the mouth of the Colorado River and become the first Europeans to stand on California soil.
1542 - The Portuguese-born sailor, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, became the first European to explore California, landing at San Diego on September 28. He went on to discover the Catalina Islands, the sites of San Pedro and Santa Monica and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands.
1545 - A typhus epidemic kills hundreds of thousands of natives and some colonists in Cuba and New Spain -- one of the first of a continued series of European-borne diseases that decimated the native populations.
1579 - Sir Francis Drake landed north of San Francisco Bay and claimed the territory for England.
17th Century California History Timeline
1602 - Sebastibn VizcaNno, another Spaniard, explored the coast and Monterey Bay
1665 - José de Gálvez arrives in Mexico as Visitor General of New Spain. Periodically insane - thinks he is God, Montezuma, or the King of Sweden - he lauches an ambitious program of colonizing Alta California, implemented by his emissary, Padre Junipero Serra.
18th Century California History Timeline
1775 - The Continental Congress names Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General in 1775
1776 - The first colonizing party arrived to found the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission Dolores. La Misión de San Francisco de Asis (Mission Dolores) is designated as Registered Landmark Number One of the City and County of San Francisco. The Mission Church is the oldest intact building in San Francisco, and one of the oldest Mission Churches in California. The first mass celebrated at the Mission was on June 29, 1776 (5 days before the signing of the Declaration of Independence). Mission Dolores was the sixth of 21 missions established by the Franciscans. Mission Dolores established.
19th Century California History Timeline
Late 1800's - The trans-continental railroad system was established with funding from the "Big Four," a group of men whose economic influence helped shape California's industrial industry--Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Leland Stanford. The system included tracks throughout California's Sierra Nevada region as well as connecting New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Mexico, Utah, and Nevada for mining and travel opportunities.
1812 - Russian fur traders established Fort Ross, north of San Francisco
1820 - Early in the nineteenth Century, ships from Boston began to visit the Spanish towns and Missions along the upper and lower California coast. They came first to barter for both otter and beaver pelts; later for tallow, hides, and materials used by the natives and settlers. In the 1820s American trappers and hunters began to drift into the State from the East. These early pioneers of the West were sometimes harshly treated by the earlier Spanish governors, later they were welcomed; but they had to show passports and submit to surveillance. Later, some new arrivals married the daughters of wealthy Mexican ranchers, and took up large land grants.
1846 - The United States invades Mexico from the east, reaching San Diego in December.
1849 - The city catches on fire, after Sydney Ducks allegedly burn down the abode of a merchant who refuses to pay them protection money
1850 - California was admitted into the Union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850.
1851 - On June 9, 1851, at Sydney cove, John Jenkins walked deliberately into a merchants store, picked up the small safe, carried it to a boat at a nearby wharf and coolly rowed out into the bay. The alarm was given, and a number of merchants pursued an overtook the man... --
1853 - California Academy of Sciences is founded.
1855 - September 24 - The preserved heads of Joaquin Murieta and Three-Fingered Jack" were sold at auction today for $36 to satisfy a judgement
1858 - Sutro & Co.Founded in San Francisco by Gustav, Charles, and Emil Sutro. The company is the oldest investment banking firm in San Francisco.
1859 - At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Fransisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States. - Joshua A. Norton, September 17, 1859
1861 - Fort Point completed. Built to protect San Francisco from some one who never came. The fort was never fired on nor did it ever have to defend the Gate.
1869 - September 6 - The first westbound train arrives in San Francisco.
1870 - By 1870 San Francisco had become the tenth largest city in the United States.
1878 - The American Speaking Telephone Company in San Francisco issues its first list of subscribers on a single sheet
1882- In the 1840s and 1850s, Chinese laborers were recruited to build the railroads, work the mines, and tend the fields of a growing, prosperous America. By the 1870s, with the motherlode running dry and the economy turning shaky, anti-Chinese sentiment swelled. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, barring all Chinese immigration--a law that was not repealed for more than sixty years.
1883 - "Black Bart", a gentleman bandit who has been robbing Wells Fargo stages throughout northern California, turns out to be respectable bank clerk Charles Bolton.
1891 - San Francisco, Dec. 28 -- The steamer Arago, which arrived here from the north today had one of the roughest voyages of the season. On her last trip she encountered heavy storms and had to be thoroughly overhauled and repaired.
1892 - Sierra Club is founded by 182 charter members. John Muir is elected president. In its first conservation effort, the Sierra Club leads campaign to defeat a proposed reduction in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park.
20th Century California History Timeline
1900 - Oil discovered along the Kern River.
1901 - McKinley assassinated - Roosevelt succeeds McK. - Picasso's Blue Period - J.P. Morgan organizes US Steel Corporation
1902 - Trans-Pacific telephone cable connects Canada and Australia.
1903 - The Commonwealth Club of California was founded in 1903 by San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer Edward F. Adams.
1907 -In the first decade of the twentieth Century, organized labor in San Francisco exercised "more power and influence than labor in any other major American metropolitan area." The year 1901 saw the formation of the Union Labor Party (ULP), a political party which ostensibly represented the interests of the city's workingmen... At this time, with the city considered a "closed shop" town and labor firmly in control of its political machinery, circumstances began to change. Between 1905 and the street railway strike of May 1907, an earthquake, charges of corruption against the mayor and almost all the supervisors, and a struggle for political control between local reform elements and controlling labor interests changed San Francisco politics.
1908 - The FBI originated from a force of Special Agents created in 1908 by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.
1909 - John Muir (1838-1914) was the leader of the movement to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley from despoliation at the hands of the City and County of San Francisco, which wanted the valley for a municipal water supply... Published in late 1909, outlines the preservationist's cause, and was distributed by Muir acting as president of the Society for the Preservation of National Parks...
1910 - Angel Island opened in 1910. For 30 years, Angel Island served as a point of entry to the United States for many immigrants. Like Ellis Island in New York, it processed the entry of people from different parts of the world. Unlike Ellis Island, it also served as a prison for hundreds of Chinese immigrants. The immigration compound at Angel Island was built to enforce an exclusionary law passed in 1882. This law, The Chinese Exclusion Act, was passed to deny entry to Chinese
1914 - February 5 - Birth of William S. Burroughs
1915 - The task of creating a Palace of Fine Arts for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition fell to the architect Bernard R. Maybeck, then fifty years old and known for his innovative ideas. Setting to work on this new project, he chose as his theme a Roman ruin, mutilated and overgrown, in the mood of a Piranesi engraving.
1916 -By mid-1916, after viewing the carnage in Europe, the United States saw itself poised with great reluctance on the edge of participation in World War I. Isolationism and anti-preparedness feeling remained strong in San Francisco, not only among radicals such as the Industrial Workers of the World (otherwise known as the IWW, or the Wobblies), but also among responsible labor leaders. At the same time, with the rise of Bolshevism and labor unrest, San Francisco's business community was nervous. The Chamber of Commerce organized a Law and Order Committee, despite the diminishing influence and political clout of local labor organizations. Radical labor was a small but vociferous minority which few took seriously. Violence, however, was imminent. The huge Preparedness Day parade of Saturday, July 22, 1916, was the target date. A radical pamphlet of mid-July read in part, "We are going to use a little direct action on the 22nd to show that militarism can't be forced on us and our children without a violent protest." At 2:06pm, about half an hour into the parade, a bomb exploded on the west side of Steuart Street, just south of Market Street, near the Ferry Building. The bomb was concealed in a suitcase; ten bystanders were killed and forty wounded in the worst terrorist act in San Francisco history.
1920 - When Roger Baldwin founded the ACLU in 1920, civil liberties were in a sorry state. Citizens were sitting in jail for holding antiwar views. US Attorney General Palmer was conducting raids upon aliens suspected of holding unorthodox opinions. Racial segregation was the law of the land and violence against blacks was routine. Sex discrimination was firmly institutionalized; it wasn't until 1920 that women even got the vote.
1922 - In Ozawa v. US, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that Asian immigrants were not eligible for naturalization.
1924 - Congress finally confers citizenship on (some) Native Americans.
1925 - Now, not-withstanding the tremendous advance in all costs, 260,000,000 passengers, including those using transfers, rode on the Market Street Railway Company last year  for a five cent fare, which also entitled them to transfers good all over the system, on cars equipped with modern conveniences ...
1928 - Modern age hockey dawns in the Bay Area with the creation of the California Hockey League.
1929 - With the Great Highway and Ocean Beach Esplanade, costing more than $1,000,000, and financed from the $9,380,000 highway bond issue voted by the people, completed, San Francisco today stands to show visitors from all over the world the finest stretch of highway ever constructed Completion of the highway was climaxed Sunday, June 9, by a monster celebration. More than 50,000 people massed at the end of Lincoln Way. Music from a band of 1014 musicians filled the air in joyous riot, while thousands of autoists tooted horns to add to the noise of the occasion.
1930 - Historians have differed over how to explain the influence of New Deal social policies at the local, state and national levels. Some have argued that Roosevelt's New Deal programs, by expanding the role of government, created opportunities for political entrepreneurs to use federal programs to build a base of support for themselves and the Democratic Party in their communities. The lives of Florence Wyckoff and Helen Hosmer indicate that a more complex and organic process occurred in San Francisco. Both women came of age in the early-1930s and were profoundly influenced by the human suffering and injustice they witnessed during the Depression.
1936 - The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened on November 12, 1936. The Bay Bridge is 60 Years Old - by Caltrans ; November 11-14 - 152K tons of steel 1Mil cu yrds concrete 200,000 gal paint 8.25 miles long 70,815 miles of cable 185 ft above high water, piers 50-242 ft. deep cost: $77,200,000 - Bay Bridge opens
1938 - Completion of Parker Dam and the creation of Lake Havasu.
1943 - All-American Canal completed.
1945 - June 26 - United Nations Charter signed in San Francisco
1957 - The obscenity prosecution of Alan Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti for the publication of Ginsberg's poem Howl ends with the acquittal of both men.
1962 - Three convicts slip out of the Alcatraz Cell House and disappear into the waters of San Francisco Bay, never to be seen again.
1965 - January 1, 1965 New Year's Eve costume ball at California Hall to raise funds for the Council on Religion and the Homosexual was harassed by police. It became a turning point in the San Francisco gay rights movement. ACLU took the case, which was dismissed.
1974 - Charles Garfield founds Shanti Project to provide free volunteer counseling to people with life-threatening illnesses.
1987 - In June of 1987, a small group of strangers gathered in a San Francisco storefront to document the lives they feared history would neglect. Their goal was to create a memorial for those who had died of AIDS, and to thereby help people understand the devastating impact of the disease. This meeting of devoted friends and lovers served as the foundation of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
1992 - Mayor Frank Jordan announces a state of emergency and a curfew after looters and vandals hit downtown following the Rodney King beating verdict. Police Chief Hongisto is fired after he orders his officers to clear the racks of 2000 copies of an issue of the gay Bay Times which criticizes his tactics against King demonstrators.
1993 - July 1 - Apparently dissatisfied with the legal services he had received from the law firm of Pettit & Martin, he entered their offices on the 34th floor of 101 California Street at 2:57 PM and within 4 minutes had killed 8 people and wonded 6. --John Luigi Ferri
21st Century California History Timeline
2004 – Private California company launches SpaceShipOne, the first private manned mission to space
2002 - March 24 Halle Berry becomes first African American woman to win Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in 2001′s Monster’s Ball; Denzel Washington wins the Best Actor award for his work in Training Day, marking the first time African American actors won both awards in the same year
2004 - September 28 Parkfield earthquake (magnitude 6.0)