Before Dreamforce, before Apple’s blowout product launches, even before the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, another event represented the pinnacle of San Francisco’s tech industry.

In the 1800s, the Mechanics’ Institute’s industrial exhibitions showcased the latest innovations developed in San Francisco, from Andrew Hallidie’s cable car components to Levi Strauss’ jeans to Eadweard Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope, a predecessor to the motion picture.

The Mechanics’ Institute: San Francisco’s first tech incubator

The Mechanics’ Institute Library and Chess Club entrance at 57 Post St. in downtown San Francisco. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

The Mechanics’ Institute: San Francisco’s first tech incubator

The Mechanics’ Institute library contains awards and reports from 19th century exhibitions. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

The Mechanics’ Institute: San Francisco’s first tech incubator

Chess boards are set up for players at the Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club, which has been in San Francisco since 1854 and is the longest continuously operated chess club in the United States. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

The Mechanics’ Institute: San Francisco’s first tech incubator

A cable car stands outside the Mechanics’ Institute’s sixth pavilion at Larkin and Grove streets, which held exhibitions from 1882 to 1899. (Courtesy Mechanics’ Institute Archives)

The Mechanics’ Institute: San Francisco’s first tech incubator

Beaux-Arts architecture is on display on the second floor of the Mechanics’ Institute Library. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)

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Infrastructure reporter

Benjamin Schneider is the Examiner's housing, transportation and infrastructure reporter.

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