Tragedy turns into safety for Californians’ commonly used household items
You may have heard of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906, which ranks as one of the most devastating earthquakes of all time. But the massive fires that followed in its wake are what truly laid waste to the City by the Bay: at the time a bustling city of 400,000 people.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the more than three days of conflagration resulted in:
• 3,000 deaths—the greatest loss of life in California history.
• 28,000 destroyed buildings.
• Monetary losses totaling more than $400 million in 1906 dollars (approximately $11 billion in 2020 dollars, adjusted for inflation).
• Homelessness for more than half of the city’s residents.
AN EVERYDAY DANGER
While the fire originally was started by ruptured gas mains, a major culprit that helped fuel and fan flames across the city was a simple household staple: mattresses. In 1906, mattresses were made of extremely flammable materials like cotton, straw, horsehair, and feathers, and manufacturers were not required to disclose the materials used. So to promote safety in the mattress industry following the San Francisco tragedy, the California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation (HFTI) was established in 1911 as part of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
HFTI’s jurisdiction eventually was expanded to include more home furnishing products. To ensure the safety of these products, HFTI’s licensing population grew to include retailers, wholesalers, and importers. Licensing all who participate in the distribution chain enabled HFTI to trace the origin of a product to the source when products were deemed dangerous and to have a mechanism to remove unsafe products from the market.
MORE THAN A CENTURY OF SAFETY
The just-renamed, reorganized, and expanded Department of Consumer Affairs’ Bureau of Household Goods and Services (BHGS) now also oversees the safety and licensure of numerous additional products and services including custom upholsters, sanitizers, manufacturers of thermal insulation, electronic and home appliance products and repairs, service contracts, and household movers, plus tests for flammability, sanitation, and labeling. For more than a century, the work of BHGS and its predecessors has provided Californians safer homes and peace of mind, day or night.
“Through licensing and enforcement, I’m proud to say the industry is thriving, with the safety of the consumer remaining to be our primary focus,” said BHGS Bureau Chief Nicholas Oliver.
LEARN ABOUT TODAY’S BHGS
To find out more about BHGS’ vital mission and duties, visit bhgs.dca.ca.gov; to check licenses of household goods or services providers or other licensed California professionals, visit search.dca.ca.gov.