Posted by: ushistoryfiles | October 3, 2012

The Rise and the Decline of the Gold Rush Era in the United States

Guest blogger Donna Johnson provides us with this article on the Gold Rush.


A Brief History of the Gold Rush                                                                                                  

The first gold rush in American history took place in 1799, just east of Charlotte, North Carolina. So much gold was discovered during the Carolina Gold Rush that a branch of the United States Mint was established in Charlotte to mint the newly discovered gold. Subsequent gold rushes took place in Georgia in 1829, in Pike’s Peak, Colorado in 1858, and in several places in Alaska throughout the 1890s.

When people speak of “the Gold Rush,” though, they are most likely speaking about the 1849 discovery of that precious metal at Sutter’s Creek in California. This discovery changed the history of the western United States forever.

Historical research about the California Gold Rush abounds in county archives and other government accounts, as well as newspaper reports and the letters miners wrote home. A surprising amount of Gold Rush history is contained in the annals of companies that got their start during the Gold Rush. A corporate archivist working for Levi Strauss, a company that got its start making the rough work clothes that the self-styled forty-niners wore, or Wells Fargo, which began as a message delivery service, could uncover many interesting stories.

Before the Gold Rush, San Francisco’s population numbered under 1,000. By 1850, the city’s population had jumped to 25,000. As many as 300,000 people converged upon the Golden State all told during the years between 1848 and 1855, half of them by sea and half over the California Trail, a route that traveled over 2,000 miles and took nine months to complete. While many were Americans, would-be prospectors flocked from Europe, Latin America, Australia and even China.

Gold was initially found on government property with no clear ownership rights. Anybody could stake a claim. Only the first miners to arrive were lucky enough to find gold nuggets in any quantity. Those who came later endured great hardships for relatively little wealth. Fully one-fifth of them died in the process.

The people who got rich off the Gold Rush for the most part were those entrepreneurs, foresightful enough to realize the prospectors would need essential service. Leland Stanford, the president of the Southern Pacific railroad and later the founder of Stanford University, got his start as the proprietor of a general store in Placer County.

The Gold Rush was an important phenomenon in terms of the nation’s political philosophy, underscoring the doctrine of Manifest Destiny — the belief that God intended the United States to span the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

By 1850, most of the easily accessible gold had been mined. Hydraulic mining was introduced to loosen the gold-bearing rock of the riverbanks and gravel beds. To this day, the American River that runs through El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento Counties, shows the scars of hydraulic mining.

By the mid-1850s, the California Gold Rush was essentially over.


My Name is Donna Johnson, and I am a huge history fan.   Mainly US History, because It is easier for me to travel to historical sites and relive the events in my mind.  I first really became interested in history about 15 years ago on a trip to South Dakota.  While traveling I stopped at the Little Big Horn Battlefield Monument in Montana.  The adventure had begun.

I now travel every chance I get and seek out historical places, reading stories about the events that took place there.  I am always looking to my next adventure!

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