The Earthquake of 1906: Stanford University and Environs

Exhibition Commemorates Centennial of the Disaster

Toppled statue of Louis Agassiz in front of the Quad, Photo by Frank Davey, 1906.

The Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, announces the opening of The Earthquake of 1906: Stanford University & Environs. The exhibition will be on view at Stanford University’s Cecil H. Green Library, Peterson Gallery, second floor of the Bing Wing, from February 23 through September 15, 2006, and is free and open to the public

The Great Earthquake of April 18, 1906 altered the course of Bay Area history, most dramatically in San Francisco, but also in surrounding areas. The Earthquake of 1906: Stanford University & Environs commemorates the disaster on its centennial with photographs, letters, telegrams, reports, and physical evidence of the quake’s impact on Stanford and surrounding communities, documents the relief effort, and chronicles how the young university, then in its twenty-first year, came to terms with the damage and began to rebuild itself.

First person accounts of the earthquake and its aftermath, drawn from journals and letters written by Stanford students and faculty, dramatize the display of archival materials:

“…we followed the crowd which was by this time hurrying towards the Quadrangle. The sight there was almost unbelievable and many a student nearly broke down when they saw it. The church steeple had fallen forward onto the central court and the whole thing lay in an almost unrecognizable mass. Whole sections of the outer cloisters had fallen away and lay in the roadway in disordered heaps. The huge chimney of the engineering building was down as we saw a knot of men working away feverishly at the ruins. After an hours work they came to the body of the night engineer who lay mangled beyond all recognition. At the first shock the poor fellow ran out of the buildings and seeing what had happened, ran back to shut off the steam and electricity. He did so and thus saved the university from burning. Ten feet more and he would have been safe, but the falling chimney fell at that moment and buried him beneath.”

Ernest Nathaniel Smith, class of 1908

“About noon reports began to reach us, carried by persons who came down in autos. They told of the fall of great buildings and of the terrible fire which raged throughout the business section and which could not be controlled because the water mains were broken. And in the afternoon the smoke from San Francisco covered the whole heavens, almost obscuring the sun.”

Payson Treat, Lecturer in History

“Since Thursday the great question has been one of relief to the sufferers in San Francisco. All the towns about here have organized relief committees. Palo Alto is receiving refugees, is collecting food supplies and clothing while Stanford students distribute it through the City.”

Payson Treat, Lecturer in History

“In front of the Zoology building was a peculiar sight. A large statue of Agassiz pitched off a platform on the second story and plunged headfirst through the pavement. That was the one funny thing in the whole scene of wreck and ruin. They have been joking about poor Agassiz ever since, calling him the head foremost scientist of America, a man of great penetration, and one who was alright in the abstract but not very good in the concrete.”

Ernest Nathaniel Smith, class of 1908

The exhibition is a project of the Stanford University Libraries and the Stanford University Quake ’06 Centennial Alliance, which aims to increase community awareness of the effect of the earthquake on the campus, and broaden understanding of how it contributed to technological advances in seismic hazard and earthquake preparedness and mitigation. For information and related sites, go to:

PLEASE NOTE: Images to accompany this press release are available upon request. For images, and further information about the exhibition, please contact Becky Fischbach at 650-725-1020 or via e-mail at

LOCATION: Peterson Gallery, Green Library Bing Wing, Second Floor Stanford University, Stanford, CA

NOTE: first-time visitors must register at the east entrance portal to gain access to the library. Green Library's east wing entrance faces Meyer Library. For a map of campus and transportation information, go to

HOURS: Exhibit cases are illuminated Monday-Friday from 10 am to 6 pm; Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 1 to 6 pm. The gallery is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For library hours, call 650-723-0931.

Quake damage to Memorial Church Interior, 1906


Quake damage to Memorial Arch and Memorial Church, 1906