The great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 destroyed 28,000 buildings and left 225,000 homeless. Three out of five members of IBEW Locals 151 and 6 lost everything they had. An estimated 3,000 people died, including an IBEW member named Kirkpatrick working for San Francisco Gas & Electric at Station C. The books of IBEW 151 were lost in the fire, but the one-handed Brother Arthur Gordon McArdle heroically rescued the union’s banner from the inferno.
Third Grand Vice President Michael Sullivan found the scene “utterly impossible” to describe. With water mains broken, fire continued to consume the city for over three days. But IBEW members began mobilizing almost immediately to assist one another. Harry “H.L.” Worthington, president of the IBEW’s Pacific District Council, helped Sullivan obtain a permit from General Frederick Funston so that he could search for members rather than be put to work clearing bricks from demolished buildings. Working linemen didn’t need permits—all they had to do was show their work tools.
Virtually the entire city needed to be rebuilt. Unions imposed wage restraint, but some retailers sought to profit from the sudden scarcity. The San Francisco Chronicle praised the unions and condemned the retailers’ practices as “vexatious, hateful and utterly opposed to all sound public policy.”