The California Gold Rush

The California Gold Rush
The California Gold Rush of 1849 is one of the most interesting and exiting events of the United States. From the wild stories of men striking it big, to the heart wrenching tales of people losing everything, these are what make it so alluring. There are many aspects of the California Gold Rush; effects on California; individual stories of struggle; and effects on the United States as a young country looking for stability.

San Francisco was a small town of a few hundred people in 1840, but by 1850 it was a huge city whose economy was injected with gold money. This rapid growth and development was brought on by an accidental discovery by James Marshall. “I reached my hand down and picked it up; it made my heart thump, for I was certain it was gold. The piece was about half the size and shape of a pea. Then I saw another.” Marshall had been working on a lumber mill for John Sutter, when he made his discovery. Early efforts were made in the beginning to keep the discovery quiet, but they soon failed, and lead way to one of the single largest migration of American’s across the continent.

California saw many changes very fast. Most of these play part in shaping it into what it is today. From Hollywood to San Francisco, today’s lifestyles in California have roots in the Gold Rush. Because the failure rate was so high, it became common to come out to California looking for gold and end up losing it all. California was a state of risk takers and adventurers. Today people still go out to California to find fame and fortune and many fail, as did many of the 49’ers. The economy of California is still a major risk taking economy, as it was back in the days of the Gold Rush. Computer companies start and go broke everyday in silicon-valley, producers spend millions of dollars on movies, sometimes hitting it big, and other times going bust. California has gained many of its traits and characteristics from the Gold Rush of 1849, shaping into what it is today.

What effects did the Gold Rush have on people? Some became forever rich, and some lost everything. In 1849, California was a rather uncivilized place, especially San Francisco. Miner’s came from every where to try to find their fortune, but most fortunes weren’t made mining gold, they were made because of mining. Sam Brannan was one such man who made his fortune this way. Brannan bought every shovel, pan, and every other mining related tool he could in the region. A twenty-cent metal pan now became a fifteen-dollar pan, and the only place to buy them was from Sam Bannan. Levi Strauss, a tailor who happened to have very popular canvas pants made his fortune from the Gold Rush. Phillip Armour, of Armour Meat packing company, and John Studebaker just to name a couple more. Unfortunately, not everybody could get rich, for every one person that struck it big; there were thousands that didn’t. It is not uncommon to hear stories of men leaving their wife, kids and family, with promises to return in one year with enough money to never have to work again, they never met their promises. As the gold got more sparse men who hadn’t found what they were looking for turned to gambling, drinking, and crime. “I take this opportunity of writing these few lines to you hoping to find you in good health. Me and Charley is sentenced to be hung at five o’clock for a robbery. Give my best to Frank and Sam.” Also as the gold ran out, it took different methods to find it, many of these methods have left permanent scars on California’s landscape. Hydraulic mining, one of the most damaging techniques was also one of the most popular, a single man could no longer find gold, it took a crew of men and machines to mine. The Gold Rush was dying.

As the Gold Rush died down, California grew and so did the United States. At the time of the Gold Rush the United States was still unstable in it’s economy, government, and independence. The Gold Rush helped change some of this by filling America with over half of a billion dollars worth of gold. This meant changes, changes in the south, and changes in the west. While the South’s main income was based on slavery, the North’s was based on industrialization. The gold rush meant more production in the North, and less and less in the South. California also entered the Union as a free state, heightening tensions in an already heated feud. At the time James Polk was President of the United States, and he was just finishing dealing with Mexico when gold fever struck. Under his vision of Manifest Destiny, westward expansion had begun with the purchase of California and annexation of Texas.
The California Gold Rush had many effects, it changed California, and affected people personally all over the United States, while also changing the Nation, Manifest Destiny had begun. Soon though the civil war would rip apart the temporary high, to the lowest point of American history ever. The California Gold Rush of 1984 will never be forgotten and always hold untold stories of the wild west, which will forever attract fascinated students and historians alike.