The California Gold Rush took place between 1848 and 1855. During this time gold was discovered in California. Over 300,000 people rushed to California to find gold and "strike it rich".
Gold Is Found in California
Gold was first discovered in California by James Marshall at Sutter's Mill near the city of Coloma. James was building a sawmill for John Sutter when he found shiny flakes of gold in the river. He told John Sutter about the discovery and they tried to keep it secret. However, soon word got out and prospectors were rushing to California to find gold.
Sutter's Mill from the California Department of Parks and Recreation
Before the gold rush, there were only around 14,000 non-Native Americans living in California. This soon changed. Around 6,000 people arrived in 1848 and in 1849 around 90,000 people arrived to hunt for gold. These people were called the Forty-niners. They came from all around the world. Some were Americans, but many came from places like China, Mexico, Europe, and Australia.
Digging for Gold
Many of the first prospectors did make a lot of money. They often made ten times in a day what they could working a normal job. The original miners would pan for gold. Later, more complex methods were used to allow multiple miners to work together and search larger amounts of gravel for gold.
What is "panning for gold"?
One method miners used to separate gold from dirt and gravel was called panning. When panning for gold, miners put gravel and water into a pan and then shook the pan back and forth. Because gold is heavy it will eventually work its way to the bottom of the pan. After shaking the pan for a while, the gold will be on the bottom of the pan and the worthless material will be at the top. Then the miner can extract the gold and set it aside.
Panning on the Mokelumne from Harper's Weekly
All these thousands of miners needed supplies. Typical supplies for a miner included a mining pan, a shovel, and a pick for mining. They also needed food and living supplies such as coffee, bacon, sugar, beans, flour, bedding, a tent, lamp, and a kettle.
The store and business owners who sold supplies to the miners often became wealthier than the miners. They were able to sell items at very high prices and the miners were willing to pay.
Whenever gold was discovered in a new place, miners would move in and make a mining camp. Sometimes these camps would rapidly grow into towns called boomtowns. The cities of San Francisco and Columbia are two examples of boomtowns during the gold rush.
A lot of boomtowns eventually turned into abandoned ghost towns. When the gold ran out in an area, the miners would leave to find the next gold strike. The businesses would leave too and soon the town would be empty and abandoned. One example of a gold rush ghost town is Bodie, California. Today it is a popular tourist attraction.
Interesting Facts about the Gold Rush
San Francisco was a small town of around 1,000 people when gold was discovered. A few years later it had over 30,000 residents.
California was admitted as the 31st state of the United States in 1850 during the gold rush.
Sometimes groups of miners used "rockers" or "cradles" to mine. They could mine a lot more gravel and dirt this way than with just a pan.
There have been other gold rushes in the United States including the Pike's Peak gold rush in Colorado and the Klondike gold rush in Alaska.
Historians estimate that around 12 million ounces of gold was mined during the gold rush. That would be worth around $20 billion using 2012 prices.