Passengers riding one of the city's iconic cable cars provide a classic view of San Francisco, California, (note Alcatraz Island in the background) in 1954.
Photograph by J. Baylor Roberts, National Geographic

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    On August 2, 1873, entrepreneurs in San Francisco, California, opened the first of the city’s iconic cable cars. Today, San Francisco’s cable cars are the United States’ only moving National Historic Landmark.
    Cable cars are pulled along by thick, tightly wound steel cables that snake beneath San Francisco’s hilly streets. A skilled “gripman” operates the device (grip) that moves the cars along by maneuvering the grip among various cables, tracks, and coasting areas.
    Today, most of the nearly 10 million riders on San Francisco’s cable cars are tourists. Buses, trolleys, the local metro, and taxis are more common forms of transportation for the local population.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    cable Noun

    strong set of cords or wire ropes.

    cable car Noun

    rail car pulled by a constantly moving underground system of cables.

    device Noun

    tool or piece of machinery.

    entrepreneur Noun

    person who starts and manages a business.

    iconic Adjective

    event or symbol representing a belief, nation, or community.

    maneuver Noun

    a skillful movement.

    metro noun, adjective

    subway or train used for public transportation.

    National Historic Landmark Noun


    place recognized by the U.S. government as having "exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States."

    operate Verb

    to control or manage.

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    steel Noun

    metal made of the elements iron and carbon.

    tourist Noun

    person who travels for pleasure.

    transportation Noun

    movement of people or goods from one place to another.