Jesuit Mission USF history

History of the Sciences: Science and Technology Roar into the 1920s

Michael M. O'Shaughnessy, city engineer for the City of San Francisco and former dean of the College of Engineering at the University of St. Ignatius, was a busy man in 1920. He was in the midst of overseeing the expansion of the Municipal Railway (Muni) throughout San Francisco, as well as engineering new sewers, boulevards, highways, and tunnels for the city. He was also in charge of the Hetch Hetchy water system project, one of the most ambitious (and controversial) water systems in the nation. Although the College of Engineering closed its doors in 1918 for lack of students, and its parent institution, the University of St. Ignatius, went to the brink of bankruptcy in 1919 for partly the same reason, the comprehensive public transportation network that O'Shaughnessy engineered dramatically increased the school's accessibility and fostered population growth in the western section of the city where his former school was located. St. Ignatius College, as it was renamed in 1919, was exclusively a commuter school at the time, and the public transportation that O'Shaughnessy helped develop underpinned significant student enrollment increases during the 1920s.

Muni streetcars

This 1925 photo depicts one of the Muni streetcars traveling down Hayes Street, bringing students to St. Ignatius College when it was located in the "shirt factory" from 1906 to 1927. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

In 1912, when O'Shaughnessy took over as city engineer (the same year he was selected as the founding dean of the College of Engineering), Muni had only 10 streetcars and one line that ran from Geary Avenue and Market Street to 10th Avenue and then to Golden Gate Park. Two years later, under O'Shaughnessy's oversight, the Stockton Street Tunnel opened, and soon the Municipal Railway had six lines and was carrying 20 million passengers a year. The new Stockton Street rail line, which ran along Columbus Avenue and Chestnut Street, carried thousands of passengers to the site of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in the Marina District. By 1918, O'Shaughnessy had completed the Twin Peaks project, which permitted streetcars to operate in the western half of the city, until then a sparsely populated area of sand dunes, vegetable gardens, and cemeteries. The Twin Peaks Tunnel was more than two miles in length, and at the time it was the longest streetcar tunnel in the world. Throughout the 1920s, O'Shaughnessy extended Municipal Railway lines into areas of the city that had no previous service, including the outer Sunset, Parkside, and Ingleside districts. In 1926, the Muni's J-Line was completed over the hills to Noe Valley, and the following year, the Sunset Tunnel was finished for the N-Judah line, the last major municipal railway project of the 1920s. Backed by the political power of Mayor James Rolph, Jr., and with the engineering expertise of Michael O'Shaughnessy, San Francisco during the 1920s developed one of the premier public transportation systems in the nation, stretching from the Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street to the Great Highway at Ocean Beach.

Vig14.2 St. Ignatius Church and College 1922

In the early 1920s, due in part to the expansion of the public transportation system, much of the property in the neighborhoods near St. Ignatius Church and College and elsewhere in western San Francisco was beginning to be developed, as seen in this photo from 1922. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

San Francisco fully participated in the technological, economic, and social changes that swept the United States in the 1920s. During this decade, the population of San Francisco increased 25 percent, from 506,676 in 1920 to 634,394 in 1930. This population growth catalyzed the development of the western portions of the city, such as the Richmond and Sunset districts, and the southern areas of the city, including the Outer Mission and Potrero districts. The development of new municipal railway lines, directed by O'Shaughnessy, was both a cause and an effect of the development of the western and southern sections of the city. Shopping areas, businesses, schools, parks, and a greatly enhanced street system also emerged to accommodate the influx of people, many of whom were driving mass-produced automobiles around the newly developed portions of the city. A few blocks from St. Ignatius College, Golden Gate Park increasingly attracted large numbers of people and saw the opening of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in 1921, the Steinhart Aquarium in 1923, and Kezar Stadium in 1925.

Vig14.3 Young Memorial Museum

The completion of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park in 1921 epitomized the development of western San Francisco during the 1920s. The museum is pictured here in 1928, shortly after St. Ignatius College moved from the "shirt factory" into the new Liberal Arts Building (now Kalmanovitz Hall) on Fulton Street, less than a mile from the de Young Museum. In 1906, the Jesuits had purchased two lots from Mr. and Mrs. M. H. de Young on the corner of Hayes and Shrader Streets, which served as the location for their temporary church and college until 1927. SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY

Other forms of transportation appeared during the 1920s, fueled by new technologies. In 1920, the first transcontinental airmail flight was completed from New York to San Francisco; in 1924, the first "Dawn to Dusk" transcontinental flight landed successfully at Crissy Field; in 1927, the San Francisco Municipal Airport (Mills Field) was dedicated; and in 1928, daily airline service between Los Angeles and San Francisco was inaugurated.

Vig14.4 San Francisco Municipal Airport

In 1927, the same year that the Liberal Arts Building was completed at St. Ignatius College, the San Francisco Municipal Airport (Mills Field) was dedicated. The next year, when this photo was taken, daily passenger service began between San Francisco and Los Angeles from this airport. For the citizens of San Francisco, and for the St. Ignatius College community, the world became smaller. The San Francisco International Airport is now on this site. SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC LIBRARY

Vig14.5 Ford Ad

Among the many technological changes during the 1920s with major social implications, few were as significant as the factory-produced affordable automobile. Automobile dealers appealed to a wide range of audiences, including college students, with their marketing campaigns, as witnessed in this advertisement that appeared in the 1921 edition of the Ignatian, the literary magazine of St. Ignatius College.  UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

The 1920s witnessed profound social changes in the United States, in San Francisco, and at St. Ignatius College. Across the nation, people had widespread access for the first time to the technological wonders of the automobile, the radio, talking movies, and the airplane. The introduction of mass-produced and relatively inexpensive automobiles produced sweeping social changes in travel opportunities, suburban growth, courtship patterns, and individual independence. During the early 1920s, the rapid introduction of radios into homes across the nation provided instant access to information and popular culture. Likewise, the growth of the movie industry, marked by the release of the first talking movie in 1927, fostered a sense of popular culture and common idols among Americans. By the end of the decade, the proliferation of airlines enabled the rapid transport of people and mail between America's cities. A new urban culture developed, complete with skyscrapers, mass-produced products, and mass advertising. Dominating the decade was a popular perception of unlimited opportunities and unending prosperity, a perception that came to a crashing end in 1929.

The social and technological changes in the United States and the population growth and urban expansion of San Francisco were interwoven with developments at St. Ignatius College during the 1920s. From 1920 to 1929, St. Ignatius College witnessed dramatic changes that laid the foundation for today's institution, including its science programs. Student enrollment increased significantly during the decade; the campus moved to its present location on Fulton Street; two major buildings (a faculty residence and the Liberal Arts Building) were constructed on the new campus; and in 1925, the departments of arts, sciences, and philosophy were officially integrated to become the College of Arts and Sciences.


Information about Michael M. O'Shaughnessy can be found in "City Commercial, City Beautiful, City Practical: The San Francisco Visions of William C. Ralston, James D. Phelan, and Michael M. O'Shaughnessy," in California History Magazine, fall 1994, and in Tunnels and Residential Growth in San Francisco, 1910-1930, a 1971 master's thesis in history at the University of San Francisco by Vincent D. Ring. The 1920s are described in most standard texts on United States history, including The United States: An Experiment in Democracy by Avery Craven and Walter Johnson, pages 656-686. A good summary of the 1920s in San Francisco appears in The San Francisco Almanac by Gladys Hansen, pages 47-49, and in Fire and Gold: The San Francisco Story by Charles Fracchia, pages 138-145. The decade of the 1920s at St. Ignatius College is detailed in Jesuits by the Golden Gate: The Society of Jesus in San Francisco, 1849-1969 by John McGloin, S.J., pages 108-112, and in all issues of the Ignatian published during that decade, supplied by Michael Kotlanger, S.J., USF's archivist.

Alan Ziajka, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and University Historian