4 December

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) was a period in American history which began on 24 Jan 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought—mostly by sailing ships and covered wagons—some 300,000 gold-seekers (called “forty-niners”, as in “1849”) to California.

The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. At first, loose gold nuggets could be picked up off the ground, and since there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields, a system of “staking claims” was developed. In 1849, a state constitution, governorship, and legislature were established, and as part of the Compromise of 1850, California officially became a US state. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. Roads and other towns were built throughout the new state, and new methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service. By 1869, railroads were built across the country from California to the eastern United States.

The California Gold Rush was a particularly violent period for the new settlers of the Wild West. After the initial boom had ended, explicitly anti-foreign and racist attacks, laws and confiscatory taxes sought to drive out foreigners, especially Chinese and Latin American immigrants. The toll on US immigrants was also severe: roughly one in twelve perished due to the extraordinarily high crime rates and the resulting vigilantism. While the total of gold recovered would be worth tens of billions of US dollars today, eventually the technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required in order to mine the gold, causing increasingly important mining companies to take over the industry and leading to great wealth for a few. Many of those who had had to rely on simple gathering methods, such as gold panning, returned home with only a little more than they had originally started with.