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In this book, Peter Decker provides the fullest history of social mobility in a western city and one of the first accounts of white-collar mobility. Using federal and state census records, city directories, newspaper reports, diaries, Dun and Bradstreet Company ledgers, and other sources, he traces the origins and careers of merchants and other workers who were lured to San Francisco in the nineteenth century and found success or failure.
The opportunities were great. Between 1847 and 1880, San Francisco changed from a sleepy Spanish village of about 500 people to the commercial and cultural capital of the West Coast, with a population of 233,000. This spectacular transformation serves as the background for Decker’s analysis of the emerging class structure within the city. Decker includes fine vignettes of such key individuals as Levi Strauss (the maker of “canvas pants”) and writes strong narrative accounts of such developments as the infamous San Francisco Vigilance Committee. His whole story is placed in a dramatic framework, in which he plays the California dream against the California reality.