A Trip Down Market Street is a 13-minute actuality film recorded by placing a movie camera on the front of a cable car as it traveled down San Francisco’s Market Street. A virtual time capsule from over 100 years ago, the film shows many details of daily life in a major American city, including the transportation, fashions and architecture of the era. The film begins at 8th Street and continues eastward to the cable car turntable, at The Embarcadero, in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building. It was produced by the four Miles brothers: Harry, Herbert, Earle and Joe. Harry J. Miles cranked the Bell & Howell camera during the filming. The film is notable for capturing San Francisco shortly before the city's devastating earthquake and fire, which started on the morning of Thursday, April 18, 1906.
The Miles brothers had been producing films in New York including films shot in San Francisco. In September 1905 they shot the fight between Oscar "Battling" Nelson and Jimmy Britt in Colma, California, just south of San Francisco city limits. The Miles brothers established a studio at 1139 Market Street in San Francisco in early 1906. They shot a railroad descent down Mount Tamalpais as well as the Market Street film. On April 17, Harry and Joe Miles boarded a train for New York, taking the two films with them, but they heard about the earthquake and sent the films to New York while they boarded another train headed back to San Francisco. The Turk Street house of Earle Miles survived the earthquake and subsequent catastrophic fire but the studio did not. The Miles brothers based their business out of Earle's home, and shot more footage of post-earthquake scenes. It is likely that the Market Street film survives today because it was sent away before the fire.
Several 35mm prints exist with slight changes in footage. Copies are held at the Library of Congress and the Prelinger Archives. A digital version is viewable online at Internet Archive and YouTube. In 2010, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
The film records a total of thirty cable cars, four horsecars, and four streetcars. At first there also appear to be many automobiles; however, a careful tracking shows that almost all of the autos circle the camera many times---one of them ten times. This traffic was apparently staged by the producer to give Market Street the appearance of a prosperous modern boulevard with many automobiles. In fact, in 1905 the automobile was still something of a novelty in San Francisco, with horse-drawn buggies, carts, vans, and wagons being the common private and business vehicles. The near total lack of traffic control along Market Street emphasizes the newness of the automobile.
The film was originally thought to have been made in September or October 1905, based on the angles of shadows showing the sun's position. Film historian David Kiehn noticed that there were puddles of water seen in the street, and after he examined contemporary newspapers and weather reports, he realized that the early estimates were wrong: no rain had fallen in those months. Kiehn located the February 1906 registration record for a car license plate recorded in the film, and he found that the sun's angle would be the same in March as it had been in September. In 2009 Kiehn suggested that A Trip Down Market Street was filmed in late March or early April 1906, a period with many rainy days reported. He found an advertisement for the film published in the New York Clipper on April 28, 1906, which stated that the film had been shot "just one week before the complete destruction of every building shown in the picture," though this was a somewhat hyperbolic claim given that a number of buildings seen in the film were heavily damaged and later repaired. If the "one week" statement was correct then the film would have been shot on April 11. Kiehn also found a San Francisco newspaper article published on March 29, 1906, describing the Miles Brothers' intent to film aboard a cable car. In October 2010, Kiehn was featured in a 60 Minutes segment discussing the historiography of the film, especially the problem of dating it. In 2011, Richard Greene, an engineer with Bio-Rad Laboratories, published research dating the film to March 24–30, 1906, based on the sun throwing well-defined shadows on the Ferry Building. Greene confirmed that the film was shot at about 3:17 in the afternoon, based on the Ferry Building clock. Greene notes that his calculated date range is consistent with Kiehn's findings, but not consistent with the date of April 14 which was published in 2011 by the Internet Movie Database without a supporting cite. He also notes that his date range is about three weeks prior to the earthquake, inconsistent with the "one week" claim in the New York Clipper advertisement.
There is a non-commercial mobile game with the same title on iOS and Android based on the film.