As you may know, the cable car was a San Francisco invention, conceived of as a solution to transporting city dwellers up the city's steep hills more safely β€” following some tragic accidents that involved horse-drawn streetcars. And August 2, 2023 marks the 150th anniversary of the first cable car being tested on Clay Street.

There was a ceremony Wednesday morning at the Powell Street cable car turnaround, featuring Mayor London Breed, House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, and SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin among others. On display was "Car No. 1," which does not date to the 1873 founding of SF's cable car system, but it is a replica of a car used in the 1880s, built for the centennial of the cable cars in 1973.

The Chronicle's Heather Knight, who's got one foot out the door on her way to the New York Times, got to ride Car No. 1 this morning and tweeted some pics β€” but she has the date of Andrew Hallidie's invention off by 100 years.

As NBC Bay Area notes, today's ceremony honored both the 150th anniversary of the cable car, as well as Fanny Barnes, the first woman to work as a grip person operating an SF cable car.

The first cable cars, which run by attaching to a moving cable and pulley system just beneath the street, ran on steam power, while now they run by electricity. The explainer video below shows the cables running through the main engine house at the 2:00 mark, and explains how the system works.

Tourists and San Francisco residents alike often conflate the terms "trolley" and "cable car" β€” but cable cars are not trolleys. The "trolley" refers to the trolley pole that attaches streetcars to overhead electrified wires β€” so, the F-line streetcar can be called a trolley, or a streetcar, but cable cars are cable cars.

Hallidie followed in his inventor father's footsteps β€” his father had invented the stuff we now know from suspension bridges and the like, cables made of ropes of metal wire. Hallidie brought his father's cable to the Gold Rush in 1852, using it to create mining conveyances. In 1869, Hallidie witnessed an accident that would inspire him to apply his knowledge of wire cables to the city's uphill transportation problems.

Photo via SFMTA

According to an account in The Argonaut from 2009, recounted in this 2015 Chronicle piece, Hallidie was walking on Jackson Street between Kearny and Grant streets on a winter day in 1869. He watched as a couple of horses were whipped and prodded to pull a streetcar full of people up the hill β€” an 8.3% grade β€” and then one of the horses slipped on a wet cobblestone. "The driver applied the brake so hard the chain was ripped out and the car slid downhill, dragging the horses over the pavement," the Chronicle recounts. "The car came to a rest at the bottom of the grade, and the horses were mutilated and killed."

Hallidie, then 33, said in a later account that he was horrified by the sight, and became determined to put an end to "the great cruelty and hardship to the horses engaged in that work."

There are apparently differing accounts about the conception and construction of the original cable car, but 4 a.m. on August 2 has been agreed upon as the date and time of the first cable car test. The $40,000 project had been mocked in the press as "Hallidie's Folly."

Hallidie is credited with inventing the "endless ropeway" for his mining trams which became the basis for San Francisco's first cable car system β€” a continuous loop of metal cable. He would later patent an "improved grip pulley" as well.

Hallidie described the inaugural, early morning ride as a pretty sober and quiet one. "There was no frivolity. The whole affair was serious, and when it was done, there was simply a mutual hand shaking and nothing but cold water drunk," he wrote.

But writer Gary Kamiya, in that Chronicle piece, also recounts one notable bit of celebration. "As the little grip car passed Mason Street, so the story goes, a French baker in a nightcap leaned out his window and tossed a bouquet of flowers out the window. It was a homely tribute to the maiden voyage of one of the most beloved forms of urban transportation ever invented."

Photo via SF Cable Car Museum