The cable car was developed in 1873 as a replacement for the horse-drawn streetcar. It enjoyed a relatively brief period of popularity prior to the development of the electric streetcar.
The basic concept is simple: A continuous cable is kept in motion under the track throughout the entire route. The cable car is equipped with a vise-like “grip” that catches the moving cable when the operator desires the car to move, and disengages the cable when stopping. The top speed of the car is limited to the speed of the cable, about 12 mph. By 1895, a total of 28 American cities had built cable systems, the largest of which was in Chicago, Illinois. Only in San Francisco, with its steep hills, did the cable railway survive.
Car 43 was part of a group of cars built for Cal Cable in 1906-07 after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed all of the line's original rolling stock. It operated in San Francisco until the mid-fifties, when it was sold along with five other cable cars to the Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park here in Southern California. The six cars were modified with motor drives and used as battery powered parking lot shuttles. Five of these cars returned to San Francisco in 1981, while Car 43 remained behind as a display.
The car was donated to the Museum by Knott's in 1985. Knott's also donated other equipment to the Museum, including Sutter Street Railway cable car trailer 77.