Little Bits of History

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 18, 2010

His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I

September 17, 1859: Joshua Abraham Norton, born in England, raised in South Africa, and immigrated to San Francisco, declares himself Emperor Norton I of the US. Norton came to San Francisco in 1849 with $40,000 – a bequest from his father. He was successful in the real estate market and had a fortune worth $250,000 by 1853.

China experienced a famine and would no longer export rice. Rice in the San Francisco area went from 4¢ to 36¢ per pound and Norton thought he would corner the rice market. He heard of a ship coming from Peru loaded with rice. He decided to purchase the tons of rice. Unfortunately, this was only the first of many ships coming from Peru loaded with rice. Norton and his financial partners fought through the legal system with Norton eventually losing the battle. He declared bankruptcy in 1858 and left the city for some time.

He returned a different person and declared himself Emperor of the US and the Protector of Mexico. He had no political power, but was treated deferentially by locals. He printed his own currency which was accepted by local merchants. When he tried to cash this currency at a bank, they refused and he issued a proclamation foreclosing on their business. He issued many proclamations over the years. He demanded political appointments be changed. He ordered a bridge to be built across the bay. He even proclaimed that the word “Frisco” be banned.

Many of the proclamations attributed to him were actually published by newspapers to make their own points. Even so, about fifteen have been authenticated. On January 21, 1867, he was arrested by a rookie policeman who thought he should be in a mental institution. The Police Chief apologized to “His Majesty.” In the 1870 census, Norton’s occupation was listed as “emperor.” Emperor Norton I dropped dead of “apoplexy” on January 8, 1880 while walking along California Street on the way to give a lecture at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Over 10,000 people turned out for his funeral.

“At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Francisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States. – Joshua A. Norton, September 17, 1859

“The insane are but grown up children, children too, who have received false notions, and a wrong direction.” – Jean Esquirol

“Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to the insane world.” – R. D. Laing

“The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.” – G. K. Chesterton

Also on this day, in 1930 construction began on Boulder (Hoover) Dam.

One Response

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  1. C Woods said, on August 12, 2012 at 7:39 am

    SEE Bonanza;,Season 7, episode 225 (1966) “THE EMPEROR NORTON”
    Watch Part 1 here (there are 5 parts):

    Watch for Bridge dialog, too. The drawing shown in Part 2, is the first that was used in the USA and was tested in Part 5 at the Ponderosa Ranch across Boze Creek. It was also presented and seen at SF by the bridge designer Joseph Strauss who modified it for the Golden Gate Bridge design in the 1930’s,

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