Historic Photo: Amazing panorama of San Francisco, 1853.

panorama san francisco 1853

It’s rare that I present a “Historic Photo” that I ask you to click on, but I’m just going to have to do that in this case. This incredible six-pane Daguerreotype panorama shows what San Francisco looked like in the year 1853, and you just can’t see any detail unless you click the full sized image. (If you click, WordPress should bring it up in a browser popup that you can scan horizontally to see more detail). In the early days of photography, it was difficult, though not impossible, to do full 360- or 180-scan panoramic images. The photographer who took this sequence did it in segments, circling the whole horizon, and then put the images together as a strip. This is one of the earliest photographic views we have of San Francisco.

This is so amazing because San Francisco in the 19th and early 20th century was such a chameleon. Destroyed numerous times by fires and earthquakes–most notably in 1857 and 1906–each time San Francisco was rebuilt from its own ashes it looked almost totally different, with little trace left of its former incarnation. In 1853 the city was just coming out of the Gold Rush boom that brought thousands of white settlers to California beginning in 1849. This, of course, caused its problems for the Latino, Native American and African-American residents who had been there for a while, and California’s history in this period is one of considerable racial strife. But by the end of the 1850s San Francisco was established as a major port and service center and was just beginning to become stable enough in its own right to avoid the fate of numerous other “boom towns” in Western history. This stability would prove key later in the century, when San Francisco and its economy anchored the Western terminus of railroads and finance that stitched the country together between the Civil War and World War I.

I love old photos like this! Very interesting stuff.

This picture is in the public domain.


  1. Sean,

    Very happy to find there are at least three photographers by the name Munger in California. I have one very old photograph of a pastor (possibly Bishop Joshua Soule?) from some time in the 1800’s. I am hoping around 1853-54. Do you have an ancestor who worked in photography at that time in California? Thanks!

    Paul C. Draper

    1. Paul, I am not aware of any Californians named Munger in the 1850s. What I know of my people, we were largely confined to New England during the 19th century and well into the 20th (my father was born in Massachusetts). Though it is true, so far as I know, that all Mungers in America come from a common ancestor who landed in Guilford, Connecticut in the 17th century.

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