California, Open Your Golden Gates!
The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) officially began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The gold-seekers were called “forty-niners”, as a reference to the year 1849 (when the largest influx occurred) and most of them endured substantial hardships along the way. At first, the gold nuggets could be picked up off the ground. Later, simple techniques, such as panning, were developed to recover the gold from streams and riverbeds. Once the easily collected sources ran out, more sophisticated methods were developed that required significant financing, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners.
The effects of the Gold Rush on the settlement of San Francisco were substantial. The city grew from having about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 50,000 by 1852. In 1849 a state constitution was written and California became a state in 1850. It was a unique time in history when it was possible to go from rags to riches in an afternoon. Yet the majority of those who flocked to San Francisco were not so lucky. The people who became the richest were not the miners, but were the entrepreneurs who created businesses to support all of the prospectors. Businesses sprang up to meet the increased needs and some that still exist today include Levi Strauss and Wells Fargo.
Gold that would have been worth tens of billions of dollars by today’s standards was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few. However, many returned home with little more than they had started with. These days, a trip to San Francisco is much more pleasant – and if you plan your souvenir shopping right, you’ll definitely return home with more than you started with. But you can still get a peek at some of what these early pioneers experienced. Many of the original Gold Rush sites still offer trail hikes showing off the beautiful scenery, as well as the opportunity to pan for gold! So keep you eyes open, your fortune could be right underfoot!