Ralston is a third-generation San Franciscan, the great grandson
of Henry Russell Ralston, a Scottish ironworker who arrived
in San Francisco with his brother, the first John Ralston,
around 1865, and who with the first John established the Ralston
Iron Works on Howard Street about 1870.
The current John was born on May 10, 1942, and as it was
just after the United States entered World War II there was
a shortage of necessities, including taxicabs. No cab came
to the family's Larkin Street address when John's mother went
into labor, and John's uncle was called in the middle of the
night to take his mother and panic-stricken father to St.
Mary's hospital. John's uncle tore over in his vintage 1940
Buick, the party was hustled aboard, and the Buick tore off,
but too late. Sixty-two years later, John basks in the satisfaction
of knowing that while many San Franciscans boast of being
born in such-and-such a neighborhood, he was born in several!
Appropriately, May 10th was Mother's Day.
Like his father, uncle, aunt, and two older brothers, John
attended the old Lowell on Hayes Street, and he majored in
history at the University of California, Berkeley, with an
emphasis on Russia and the Soviet Union. The circumstances
of his birth having indelibly impressed upon John a love for
and fascination with his native city, he began researching
San Francisco's history independently after graduating. Two
literary sparks that ignited his research were the late William
Bronson's The Earth Shook, the Sky Burned about the great
Earthquake and Fire of 1906, and Boss Ruef's San Francisco,
by the late Walton Bean, distinguished professor of history
at the University of California, Berkeley, and a foremost
authority on California. In the latter work John first encountered
the great editor Fremont Older (1856-1935), and the more he
read about this incredible individual and the times in which
he lived - and influenced - the more John was determined to
produce a biography worthy of Older.
John and his wife Lana, who emigrated from the former Soviet
Union in 1979, have formed the Ralston
Independent Works (the name commemorates Great-Grandfather
Henry's and Great-Uncle John's venture), with several aims:
fostering trade between Silicon Valley and Russia; publishing
An Authentic Hero, the biography of Fremont Older;
and producing a documentary on the Incredible
case of Warren K. Billings and Thomas J. Mooney - another
story, which like Older's must be retold to each generation.
In October 2003 John and Lana presented a mixed-media program
on the Billings-Mooney case to the San Francisco History Association,
and in June 2004 John gave a program on Fremont Older at the
San Francisco Museum and
Historical Society's monthly meeting. John and Lana also
collaborate on the Encyclopedia of
San Francisco website, to help stimulate interest in the
SFMHS's monumental plans for a Museum of the City of San
Francisco in the Old Mint on Fifth Street. Please visit
Ralston Independent Works
web site to get familiar with their work.