Synopsis

Norton the First is one man’s biography, but it is also the story of a city. Through studying the rise and fall of one remarkable and unique individual we can also explore the nature of San Francisco from its infancy through today.


Joshua Abraham Norton was a ‘49er that moved from South Africa to pursue his fortune. He quickly became a pillar of the business community and amassed a fortune. However, while trying to corner the market on rice he lost everything, and disappeared from public records.

Then one fateful day, he confidently walked into the editor’s office of a local paper in full empirical regalia with a proclamation declaring himself Emperor of the United States. The proclamation was printed and wildly popular among a public that was already familiar with Norton, and for twenty years the city played along.
Many people have contributed to the whimsical nature of San Francisco but Norton was the first. He set the standard in a city that values creativity, tolerance, and freedom, and is a shining example of how San Francisco is a place where you can reinvent yourself on your own terms.


Through extensive interviews, archival images, and immersive cinematic sequences, Norton the First aims to put the viewer in 19th century California and lend historical perspective to the continuing development of San Francisco.