A self-proclaimed emperor who called San Francisco home
Joshua Abraham Norton — who proclaimed himself "Emperor Norton" —began his "reign" in San Francisco in 1859.
How it happened: Norton was born in England and spent his early years in South Africa before coming to America. Once he made his way to our city in 1849, he became a successful commodities trader and real estate speculator.
Details: After facing financial ruin due to a failed attempt to corner the rice market, he reinvented himself as emperor. Though he had no formal political power, many people went along with his charade.
- Some establishments issued currency in his name while merchants sold souvenirs bearing his image. He frequently made proclamations in the newspaper and enjoyed free ferry and train rides.
- When Norton died in 1880, San Francisco Chronicle reported that over 10,000 people lined the city streets to honor him.
Of note: San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted earlier this year to designate the 600 block of Commercial Street "Emperor Norton Place" to commemorate him.
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