Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro was born in 1830, in Aachen, Prussia. After immigrating to the United States, he moved to San Francisco in 1850. After starting as a merchant, Sutro planned and promoted a tunnel that he designed to drain the water from the mines of the Comstock in Nevada. The Sutro Tunnel faced many obstacles, including a lack of funding and opposition by some miners. Its completion, in 1878, made Adolph Sutro a very wealthy man. This wealth allowed him to buy one-twelfth of the land mass of San Francisco. In 1881, he bought the Cliff House Restaurant, which was located on the city's beach. In 1892, Sutro developed the Sutro saltwater baths to provide an entertainment for the city's inhabitants. The baths officially opened to the public in 1896. After a fire destroyed the Cliff House, on December 25, 1894, he spent $50,000 of his own money to have it rebuilt. As a bibliophile, he gave his enormous library of books and manuscripts, many of which were in the Hebrew language, to the State of California. Sadly, more than half of this collection was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. He also fought for good, cheap water, better mass transportation, and for the preservation of the environment. He made money as a real estate entrepreneur and later donated a great deal of his land to the city of San Francisco, including twenty-one acres that later became the site of the University of California, San Francisco's Medical Center. Sutro was sufficiently concerned about the politics of his day that he ran for and was elected mayor of San Francisco (1895-1896). He died a short time after he finished his single term. Though Sutro was not religious he maintained Jewish ties. At Sutro's funeral, the rabbi of San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel, Jacob Nieto, observed, "So long as one stone remains above the other in San Francisco... Sutro will be remembered as the one man who fearlessly fought against overwhelming odds to protect the rights of the people."
The collection contains biographical material on Adolph Sutro; personal documents such as Sutro's citizenship certificate; correspondence, including seven letters to Sutro from James Phelan, who succeeded Sutro as the mayor of San Francisco; ephemera from Sutro's 1894 campaign for mayor of San Francisco; financial documents and ephemera for the Sutro Tunnel project; tickets for the Sutro Baths as well as Sutro's 1894 patent for the design of the baths; a card from the Sutro Railroad Company; business and calling cards; pamphlets, including Sutro's letter to the University of California Regents in 1895 and a pamphlet produced for the dedication services of the Sutro Monument in 1887; a variety of personal financial records, including real estate tax records, checks, invoices from a range of nineteenth-century San Francisco businesses, receipts from Jewish organizations (such as the Eureka Benevolent Society), estate documents, and deeds; and photographs and pictorial materials. Most of the photographs are reproductions from other collections. Original photographic prints include one of the entrance to Sutro Heights (c. 1895). The oversize folder includes Comstock Tunnel Company bonds, Sutro's citizenship papers, property tax records, and a California Senate resolution to Adolph Sutro (1867). The oversize box in the collection contains a congratulatory book presented to Sutro by representatives of the City of Boston on the occasion of Sutro's election as Mayor in 1894.