Postal Updates

Postal workers saved post office building during San Francisco earthquake

Sep 27, 2015, 11 PM

Postal workers have often acted heroically — examples include workers who died on the RMS Titanic while trying to preserve the mail and “Snowshoe” Thompson, who delivered mail and other essentials to residents of the High Sierras in the middle of the 19th century (and was never paid by the post office).

After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, postal workers not only saved the mail, they saved the new post office building.

As San Francisco grew in the late 19th century, buildings were needed for various government organizations. A beautiful beaux arts style building opened Aug. 29, 1905, to house the central post office, federal courts and other agencies.

Less than eight months later, on April 18, 1906, the earthquake and fire occurred. Fire spread throughout the building. Ten heroic postal workers ignored Army officers’ orders to vacate, and they put out the fire using canvas mail sacks soaked in water.

The interior of the building once again suffered significant damage during the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake. The post office moved out of the building after that, and the building was restored to its original glory.

It is now the James R. Browning United States Courthouse used by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The building is open to the public when the court is not in session. The post office windows have been preserved, and informational panels describe the history of the building. Free tours are offered periodically.