In 1903, Charles Howard left New York to head west in search of work. He arrived in San Francisco with only 21 cents in his pocket, and just his charm and charisma to fall back on. He managed to borrow some money to open a small bicycle repair shop, just as a new invention, the automobile, was starting to become more popular, although most people could not yet afford to buy one. The lucky few who owned a car, however, often came to him for advice on how to repair their vehicle when it broke down.
Howard knew that cars had several important advantages over horses, and that they would probably become a way of life in the future. So he decided to travel to Detroit to persuade Will Durant, the head of Buick, to grant him a franchise licence, so that he could sell the company’s cars back in San Francisco. Buick was one of the first American car manufacturers, and Will Durant would go on to found General Motors.
On the 18th of April 1906, however, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco and caused chaos throughout the city. Hundreds of people were killed or injured, fires blazed out of control, and horses and people fled the city. Howard, however, saw an opportunity amid the catastrophe: since his Buicks were not selling very well at the time, he decided to use them as ambulances, showing everyone just how important and valuable cars were. He made a fortune.