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Wheeled Thievery and Sandbaggery

November 21, 2013

Bicycle thieves were a problem in the Mission in 1905, but not quite in the way you might expect.

1905 bicycle thieves headlines

Basically these guys would ride up on their bikes and hit you over the head with a sandbag and rob you.

“They keep In the shadows, creeping along on their silent, rubbber-shod steeds until they are almost alongside him.”

Uh oh.

“The two have neither lamp nor bell upon their bicycles. Their method Is to follow a pedestrian along the lonely roads in the Mission.”

That’s not good.

This via the archives of the San Francisco Call in the historo-panopticon that is the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

SF call banner

1905 bicycle thieves

Alas this particular crime seems to have taken place not quite in the Mission, but on a bridge that passes over the Bernal Cut connecting Glen Park to the Lost Tribe of College Hill. This was not, however, the Richland or Highland bridges — from the SFPL archives, we know they weren’t built until 1928/1929.

1929 Oct Richland and Highland St bridges over San Jose Ave AAA-9913

Longtime readers will remember that the Bernal Cut was much, much, much narrower (and was once the main route for the Southern Pacific Railway, until the Bayshore Cutoff was completed in 1907.)

1905 Bernal Cut Milton St looking north AAB-8703 1905 Bernal Cut Charles St Looking South AAB-8697

I stitched together a bunch of the 1899-1900 Sanborn Maps to get a better view of the Bernal Cut.

bernal cut

While it looks like there are two bridges across the cut, the one at Fairmount is actually for a water main.

bernal cut fairmount water main AAA-9919

The bridge where our friends were attacked by nefarious bicycle thieves was most likely Charles Street:


Before you go about visualizing two guys on foot being chased by two guys on bikes wearing caps (one wearing a red sweater),  I just realized that the Charles St bridge above looks different than the Charles St. bridge you can see in the background of the Fairmount water main photo:

charles st bridge pre-1910

These photos aren’t dated, but from looks of the trusses in the photo below (dated 1910), it looks like the Charles St Bridge was rebuilt.


Anyway, if you are wondering how in the world I found this article, I was actually trying to look up references to the sandbags that were used to mark out the streetcar stops.

1920 Valencia & 20th I0052090A

It turns out that sandbagging was quite a popular way to attack people from 1880 to 1920.


While I had visions of thieves scooping up the streetcar sandbags, @daudig points out they preferred the sausage-shaped variety.

Of course, that begets the question of where they got the sand:

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable permalink
    November 21, 2013 5:00 pm

    The way I understand it, the “sandbags” they refer to in this context are actually more what we could consider “blackjacks” or “saps”.

    • November 21, 2013 5:40 pm

      Yeah, found this in 1894:

      “…when arrested, [he] had a bunch of skeleton keys in his pocket and a villainous looking sandbag, made of the top of a stocking stuffed with sand”

  2. November 22, 2013 11:13 am

    This is amazing.

  3. November 26, 2013 5:45 pm

    This is great info on the Charles St. bridge. Thank you!

  4. November 30, 2013 10:48 pm

    why i’m nervous about hipsters on fixies to this day…

  5. December 6, 2013 1:55 pm

    Will you write a book for me. “Weird SF History, With Maps”


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