1945’s March of Progress, produced by the Key System, a privately owned streetcar system owned by business magnate Francis “Borax” Smith, lays out a selective albeit fascinating historical view of a growing California.
Take a trip from the early years of Spanish missions and Gold Rush boomtowns to the modern era, where cities like San Francisco and Oakland have established themselves as world class destinations.
As the simpler life on the hacienda receded into a tidal wave of new immigrants with fever dreams of riches flocking to the Sierras, a new era in California’s evolution had begun.
Backwater villages like Yerba Buena, rechristened San Francisco, developed practically overnight into thriving metropolises.
Travel down the muddy streets of the Barbary Coast into gambling houses and dancing parlors of early San Francisco, where a fortune discovered in gold country a day earlier could be lost that night with the spin of a roulette wheel.
Get an authentic glimpse of Market Street in 1903 in a short clip filmed before the great earthquake three years later.
Horse drawn trollies compete with cable cars and pedestrians as the point of view rolls down the street towards the Ferry Building.
Witness a harrowing recreation of the earthquake of 1906 and footage of the subsequent fire, leaving the stripped bones of one of the greatest cities in the world.
As San Francisco toiled to rebuild from its ashes, the city of Oakland rose to become more prominent, as early images of Latham Square, Lake Merritt, and Cal Berkeley attest.
Oakland too had muddy streets, little infrastructure, and faced the challenges of a growing population.
Giving credit to the owner of Oakland’s Key System Francis “Borax” Smith, March of Progress shows how by 1945 Oakland had become a major American city.
As the nostalgic pleasures of travel by ferry had given way to the Bay Bridge, witness the opening of the new way to get across the bay.
Streetcars run in tandem on the deck below with automobiles moving between the two cities.
Replaced by BART which tunnels under the bay, for the time a sophisticated system of lights and maps allowed operators to supervise where each train was and when, with automated safety systems implemented throughout the cars and across the tracks tracks.
The Key System was self-contained, pressing its own steel and employing an army of local engineers, mechanics, and craftsmen.
With the coming of World War II, the Key System took up the mission of training women as the urgent demand for able bodied workers increased, and the need to keep the trains moving persisted.
Interestingly, a progressive attitude towards local transit became the norm since rationing made rubber for tires and petroleum for gasoline difficult to acquire.
Even the Richmond Shipyard Railway was renovated using recycled metal during the war.
The film concludes with sketches of the luxurious streetcars of the future and an amusing animated cartoon character that gets a little overexcited about new features to come.
In 1946, the Key System was eventually absorbed by National City Lines, a front for a cartel (General Motors, Firestone Tire, and Phillips Petroleum) that sought to disrupt city transit by streetcar for the benefit of the automobile industry.
National City Lines would soon be implicated of the Great American Streetcar Scandal.