The California Gold Rush took place between 1848 and 1855. This was when gold was discovered in California.
It all began on January 24, 1848, at Sutter’s Mill, where a construction foreman found flakes of gold in the American river at the base of Sierra Nevada Mountains near Coloma, California. He was in absolute awe when he realised it was a tiny piece of gold.
He failed to keep it a secret, and soon the news spread. Legend has it that initially, the majority of San Francisco’s population was in disbelief. However, a certain storekeeper turned it all around when he paraded through town with a vial of gold obtained at Sutter’s mill, proving once again that show works better than tell.
With the promise of wealth, people flocked to California by the hundreds, both by land and sea. Men and women from around the United States borrowed money, mortgaged their property and even spent their life savings to make the journey to California. By 1849, the non-native population of California was nearly 100,000, compared to 1000 before the gold rush began.
Thousands of miners were allured by the promise of gold and moved base constantly to where gold was found. The first miners made a lot of money – up to ten times the income from their normal job.
With the swift arrival of immigrants and gold entering the market, small mining towns began to sprout, complete with shops, saloons, and various other businesses who wanted to cash in on the rush. Thus, California was born in 1850.
The Gold Rush did have an impact on the population and landscape of California, but it only lasted for a short time. The extraction of gold required more skill that lured in big businesses, slowly replacing individual miners.
Between 1860 and 1880, $170 million worth of gold- over 700,000 pounds- was extracted by large companies. Post this, agriculture took over the market.
The beginning of the state of California and the fortunes of hundreds of miners and their families is a true testament to the immense economic value and power of gold.