Oral History Center of the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley


The Oral History Center (OHC) is a research unit of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Established in 1953, the OHC has been responsible for compiling one of the largest and most widely-used oral history collections in the country. Many of California’s high-profile citizens, from governors to artists and industrialists, have been interviewed by our office — work the office now conducts nationwide. The OHC is a soft money operation, funded by endowments and donations.

Featured Fun

For San Francisco History Days 2020, the Oral History Center is presenting three videos that span a remarkable amount of San Francisco history, from transit to pioneering first responders.

Video 1. Market Street Railway and Bringing the Streetcars Back to San Francisco

Rick Laubscher is an award-winning journalist, public relations executive, and founder of Market Street Railway in San Francisco. A fourth generation San Franciscan, Rick’s long career in journalism, business, and civic activism has centered on his beloved city. This edited video details how streetcars came back to San Francisco through the dedicated work of city residents like Rick. This is an excerpt of his larger oral history, which covers the Laubscher family business on Market Street, his careers at KRON and Bechtel, as well as the many civic activities he undertook in the city. You can access that full transcript of that oral history here. 

Video 2. The Building of the Bay Bridge

The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge Oral History Project tells the story of the engineering marvel that has connected Oakland and San Francisco since it opened to the public in 1936. To be sure, no structure binds together the region, nor symbolizes its interconnectedness, like the Bay Bridge. The Oral History Center conducted this project in 2012. The majority of interviewees for this project spent their careers working on and around the bridge, and they offer their perspective on the engineering achievements, the maintenance challenges, and the complex symbolism of this massive structure. The Project Page features the full transcripts of those oral history interviews, as well as Four Edited Videos that cover the areas of engineering and construction of the bridge, its maintenance, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The Project Page can be accessed her

Video 3. San Francisco Fire Fighters featuring Robert Demmons, the city’s first African American Fire Chief.

Robert Demmons was the first African American Fire Chief for the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD). He joined the department in 1974 and was successfully promoted through the ranks. He was sworn in as Chief on January 17, 1996. This edited video features excerpts from his oral history discussing his long career with the San Francisco Fire Department and his experience as the city’s first African American Fire Chief. Chief Demmons’s interview was part of larger project on the San Francisco Fire Department. More information on that project, as well as the full transcripts of those interviews, can be accessed here

Want more? Head over to the Oral History Center’s website where you’ll find their 2019 AIDS Podcast, Notable Oral Histories on San Francisco, and the Center’s Women in Bay Area Politics Project in addition to a rabbit hole of discoveries by keyword searching “San Francisco” within their collection.

Virtual Events

Saturday, September 26, 2020 at 5:00PM – (Virtual) The Two Browns of San Francisco: Conversations with Jerry Brown and Willie Brown

In this presentation, OHC Director Martin Meeker and OHC Historian Todd Holmes discuss their oral histories with Governor Jerry Brown and Mayor Willie Brown. One a San Francisco native, the other a migrant who made the city his lifelong home, both Browns became political icons and left indelible imprints on the state of California. Here Meeker and Holmes feature segments of their recorded oral histories on their lives in San Francisco.

Visit the Oral History Center’s San Francisco History Days 2020 Home Page for more on the City’s history, the OHC, and the Center’s collection at the Bancroft Library.

This event is free but pre-registration is required.