Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wednesday Search Challenge (Jan 25, 2012): What was Art Thorpe's job?

Forgive me if I ask you another question about historic San Francisco.  But I ran across this intriguing man in the mists of San Francisco history, and I can't pass up the chance to teach you another great search trick in the process.  

Meet Arthur A. Thorpe.  He lived in San Francisco at the turn of the century... the one before the last one.  To make things easier for you, I'll even tell you he lived in SF in 1899.  

We know he enjoyed several hobbies (I'll let you figure out one of them), had a pretty nice handlebar mustache, centrally parted hair, and had an occupation that was once common on the Bay, but is VERY rare these days.

Can you figure out what Art's job was during 1899?  

And, for extra credit, can you estimate how many other people in San Francisco had that job as well? 

When you post your answer, please include the URL where you found the answer, the search path you used to figure it out, and how long it took you to get to the secret! 

I'm guessing that this is difficulty level 3.  (This is on my informal Russellian scale where the max difficulty is 5.  Level 1 is a simple 1-query search that takes less than 30 seconds, while a 5 is a full day's worth of work with many queries along the way.)  

Search on! 


  1. He was an oysterman.

    Googled: San Francisco directory 1899

    ctrl+f for Thorpe Art

    another ctrl+f for oysterman returns 48 finds on the page, so I guess that's a good estimate for how many people had the job in that year in SF.

    Took about 3 minutes (but knowing about the San Francisco directory definitely helped). I'm interested in seeing how someone not knowing about the directory would find the information.

  2. Arthur A. Thorpe was an oysterman for the Darbee and Immel Oyster Company.

    Found at:

    It took me maybe 10 minutes to come up with his picture from the Western Field magazine, (Western Field, Volume 3 1903, picture page 717 Google e-book). He was also apparently a "Crack Bowler". I kind of figured he wasn't a professional bowler so I looked around at genealogy websites and found that the Crocker-Langley San Francisco City Directory is online for 1899. I searched the SFGenealogy website and came up with the link above. The full text of the CL Directory is at:
    but takes forever to download because it's a huge file.

    Aside from download time the whole process took maybe 20-25 minutes.

  3. In 1899, Arthur A. Thorpe was an oysterman, working for the Darbee and Immel Oyster Company, as listed in the Crocker-Langley San Francisco directory for 1899 (

    According to page 75 of "The California Oyster Industry" by Elinore M. Barrett, there were approximately 100 men working the San Francisco Bay oyster beds c.1895, although that number would increase considerably for planting and harvesting. (;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&

    Several issues of the San Francisco Call newspaper detail Mr. Thorpe's impressive exploits playing "duck pin" or candlestick bowling. (;words=Thorpe+Arthur?date1=1895&rows=20&searchType=basic&state=California&date2=1905&proxtext=arthur+thorpe&y=12&x=17&dateFilterType=yearRange&index=4)

    I started to keep track of how I found this stuff, but then it all became too complicated. For a while I spun my wheels looking for family connections (like obits that mentioned Thorpe as a survivor,) and guessing at what jobs might no longer be around (train ferry, something to do with Alcatraz,) but the big break came when one of my searches referenced the Directory (above.) The oyster industry info was gained by searching on Thorpe's employer. The bowling references came first looking for Thorpe's relations.

    All in all, about 3 hours work.

    -Robert Westerman

  4. He was an oysterman, working for the Darbee & Immel Oyster Co. I found him in the Crocker-Langely City Directory for 1899.

  5. PS - I found him on and it took about 3 minutes.

    1. I take it you have an account at Ancestry?

      For people who do NOT have an account, note that your public library often has an account that you can use at the library. (I know local library in Palo Alto does.)

  6. This took about five minutes. I searched for "1899 arthur thorpe" The first three hits are for a man born in 1899. The fourth was for a hotel:

    I'm still looking...

  7. Was he a professional bowler?

    The article I found said there were two others besides him who had made a perfect score plus the man who also got it during the
    ~so four all together including Arthur?

    I searched = "Arthur Thorpe" 1899 San Francisco History

    Found this link to an Hawaiian Newspaper, apparently the Sports Column...;jsessionid=FBAF705DA9E94237EDEA823F72C2A6BF?sequence=1

  8. Answer: Oysterman one of around 19.

    Final page:

    My first thought was to look for 1900 census records, this led me to a genealogy page with a link to a city directory for SF for a year other than 1899.

    I searched for a San Francisco city directory for 1989 which led me to the directory above. The actual page was found via an internal search for thorpe.

    I then did another internal search for oysterman and got 19 hits.

    Probably about 30 minute find Mr. Thorpe and write this post.

  9. I do believe that Mr. Arthur A. Thorpe was an oysterman. It took me about 20 minutes. I'm hoping to find the extra credit answer soon.

  10. Jockey.

  11. oysterman
    15 seconds.

  12. Barkeeper in a saloon

    Used this in Google "Thorpe Arthur A." about 10 minutes after searching every quoted variation of the name.

    Also returns an oysterman at

  13. Is it cheating if I used Ancestry.Com?

    Art was an oysterman. Ancestry has a scan of the Crocker-Langley city directory which lists an Arthur A Thorpe. I'm trying to find the publicly accessible version of this (Ancestry is a pay site).

    Love your blog, by the way!

  14. I first thought that our Arthur A. Thorpe was an auto mechanic. I found this information on him and his family from who appears to be a living relative, but seeing as the fist car in San Francisco rolled down Van Ness in 1899, I didn't think it was a very popular job at the time. (

    A few hits lead me to searching SF Genealogy, which turned up a few local directories. According to this, he was an Oysterman working for Darbee & Immel Oyster co. (

  15. Took me about an hour to find the answer, and I used google with various combinations of "Arthur A. Thorpe San Francisco" as well as years from 1890 to 1910 to find the SF Genealogy site as well as a few other resources (directory searches, forum posts, family trees) where I searched for surnames.

  16. Well, I can't document every step and I'm not sure if I'm right, but here it is:
    After finding a telegrapher who was from England and born after 1899, I tried to search for "Thorpe Arthur A.". This way I found the file which says he was an oysterman.
    To estimate number of oystermen in that time, I tried to search for this: oysterman site:
    Number is 43, so let's say around fifty?
    I also tried to search for some more information about company he worked for, Darbee & Immel, and I found this: That can be also used for the estimate.
    This took me about 45 minutes.
    But I couldn't find anything about the man himself. Then I stumbled upon this: Was bowling his hobby?

    1. You absolutely got it right. The CDNC site is a great repository of historical info for California newspapers.

  17. I just checked census records and a few newspapers from that era and found nothing about his career. Interested to see how you went about this.

  18. Arthur A. Thorpe is listed as an oysterman in the Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory of 1899.
    I search for San Francisco History, and got to They had a link to the directory.
    This took me about 30 to 45 mins.

  19. Bartender in a Saloon

    <5 minutes

  20. Oysterman.

    Found it on but you might not be able to see it so here is a screencap:

    It is listed in the 1899 Crocker-Langley San Francisco Directory.

    Took about 10 minutes.

    Not trying for extra credit.

  21. Well, I think I got it. He was an Oysterman. I found this pretty quickly. My total search time for this and the bonus question was approximately 30 minutes. I first googled and found this site: . I scrolled through to Thorpe, Arthur and saw that he was an Oysterman in 1890. So I googled and found the 1899 version of this geneology , which showed him to still be an Oysterman.

    For the bonus question, I googled , which led me to this resource .

    I skimmed parts of that article and found that approx. 100 men regularly worked the Oyster Beds of San Fran Bay in the mid 1890's, but that the number could increase dramatically at the peak of the season. I also learned that between 1899 and 1904 Oyster production in this area decreased by about 50%, so it is possible the workforce was already declining in 1899.


    He was an oysterman for Darbee & Immel Oyster Co. and enjoyed bowling. I did a search for SF newspapers around the time and found his interest in bowling. After that, I looked for geneology data and found this page with a link to the 1899 phone book. It took about 45 minutes to an hour to find the info. No extra credit though.


    Oyster Man

    "thorpe, arthur a." san francisco

    20 minutes.

  24. Arthur was an oysterman.

    The only things of interest basic google search for "arthur a thorpe" san francisco brought up a sisters obituary which didn't provide the answer.
    Next I tried a search for arthur a thorpe san francisco occupation 18?? this brought up a page from the 1890 Venture County Register. While this didn't have the info on Arthur it sparked the idea that perhaps there was a San Francisco city directory online for 1899. City directories for that time contained occupation.

    A search for oysterman within the directory brings up 19 results. Assuming Arthur is one of those there would be 18 other people with his occupation.

  25. I believe he was an oysterman. I think in SF in 1899 there were 47 oystermen.
    I found this in a directory on

    It was a bit accidental. I found an Arthur Thorpe who died in Idaho but was born in SF who was a stone cutter. I thought perhaps he was son of Arthur A. so I googled
    stone cutters san francisco 1899 thorpe
    and that brought me to the directory.

  26. An oysterman?

    I started by searching the California Digital Newspaper Collection at which returned only one hit, a death notice from 1906. Maybe the same guy but no note of a profession. So started looking for census or historical business directories for SF an came up with a huge collection of resources at including the SF Directory for 1899.

    A bit vague but a search of the same full document
    returned 43 hits, which may or may not be a reasonable estimate of the number of oystermen working in the Bay area at the time.

  27. Thorpe Arthur A., oysterman Darbee & Immel
    Ovster Co., r. 1603 California

    Thorpe, Arthur A was an Oysterman in San Francisco California in 1899. An Oysterman As defined by Merriam Webster's dictionary as one who gathers, opens, breeds, or sells oysters.

    How I found this information. When I read the blog entry I immediately thought of a few occupations that have died in the last 130 years and then cross referenced them with a couple of websites. It took me two hours and I came up with nothing.

    I then got up and got a cup of coffee and thought for a while. I then re-enlarged the picture and noticed the 5 in the corner. This brought up the idea that this picture was a part of a larger directory or framed group of portraits. This instanly made me think of listing the last name first and coming up with the search query "Thorpe, Arthur A" 1899. This came up with the site

    I then ctrl + t thorpe and came up with Thorpe Arthur A., oysterman Darbee & Immel Ovster Co., r. 1603 California. After some more research I found out that operated in San Francisco during 1899. I then Googled Oysterman Jobs and came up with next to nothing.

    So my best answer is that Arthur "Art" A. Thorpe was a Oysterman in San Francisco around the turn of the Century.

  28. hey, Apparently, he was an Oyster Man. Well, or at least there was another Arthur A. Thorpe who in 1899 (and, by the way, in 1894 too) was an Oyster man.
    It took me around 30-40 min to do. here is the path: google: "San Francisco Census 1880", then I chose the first query There I chose Biographies which took me here:
    But I noticed that there was a book "San Francisco history" and there I inserted the "Arthur A. Thorpe" in the search bar, got many results. I needed just to find the ones that had "1899" in the URL (it's posted above).
    Now gonna search for the number of those guys in SF

  29. Oysterman,
    took about 1/2 hour, used your earlier articles to search for SF directories
    old san francisco phone book

    search on thorpe returned nothing
    browsed for a while (interesting reading!) 'till I got to Thorpe
    If he's the right one I have no idea what his hobbies are

    1. You managed to find almost ALL the pages I found on A. Thorpe as well. Nicely done!

  30. I'm thinking that he was an Oysterman:

    That took me about 15-20 minutes. I started the search with his name and that yielded only this blog and links to the blog from various other sites.

    Switching tacks I moved to "common jobs san francisco 1899" one of the results yielded a link to Fire Insurance Maps on the page above. From there I searched his name and it yielded a number of Crocker-Langley SF directory pages. I found the one for 1899.

    Seeing the job associated with Art Thrope on there I searched for the history of the Oyster industry and found that it was VERY popular in the SF Bay region around the turn of the century (1900's) but that it declined rapidly.

    Further queries on "California Oyster Industry" resulted in finding this book available on CaliSphere:

    It says that 100 men were estimated to work on the beds but that it spike in peak season.

    I think his hobby might have been bowling from some other references to Arthur Thorpe, but can't confirm that anywhere

  31. Hello,

    Interesting site!
    I started out searching for "common jobs 1900 San Francisco", this did not lead to anything, so I changed it up. The next search term I used was "'common industry' 1900 San Francisco" this led me to a site with a business directory for that year. This particular site had links to business directories for many years, so I selected the year 1899. This led me to the location of the clue.

    Arthur A. Thorpe was an oysterman with the Darbee & Immel Oyster Co.

    Extra Credit:
    A search for "oysterman" returned 46 entries for that business directory year. My guess would be that only half, probably less, registered with this directory. So, say about a 100 oystermen working the bay.

  32. Estimation:
    given there are ~2150 pages in the registry for 1899, I chose 10 random pages and estimated average per page amounts of Oysterman.well, that wasn't very good of an idea- among 10 pages there was no oystermen.
    Let's assume, there's an oysterman at every 11th page, so we would get around 200 people in SF. ))

  33. Ok, didn't get to the extra credit yesterday - that foolish thing we call work got in the way. A search of Crocker-Langley shows that Oysterman appears 48 times. If the question is how many other oystermen were living in San Francisco at the time, that's probably a safe bet - though it's also a safe bet that there were more that either weren't in the directory or lived outside of San Francisco.