Significance of the name 'Telegraph Hill?' : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

I was wondering how Telegraph Hill got its name. And what is the significance of Coit Tower on top of it?

-- Maren Maier (, March 20, 2001


During the Gold Rush, a lookout station sat atop the hill where ships could be observed entering the Golden Gate. A semaphore signal (then called a 'telegraph') was erected next to the station and its arms arranged to signify the type of arriving ship. For example, arms extended sideways indicated a sidewheel steamer.

Before long, similar telegraph stations were erected at Land's End and the Presidio so ships could be observed far out at sea and the information relayed to the City. Local folks would look up at Telegraph Hill and get advance warning of the ship's arrival. An electric telegraph line eventually replaced the semaphores.

Over the years, a variety of buildings stood atop the hill, including a German-style castle. Coit Tower was erected in the 1930s as a WPA project with money donated by Lilli Hitchcock Coit. Despite a persistent legend, the tower does NOT represent a fire nozzle. It's just a tower.


For a good chronology of telegraph hill, go to

-- John Martini (, March 21, 2001.

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