In early 1848, gold nuggets were discovered in Sacramento Valley, which became the beginning of the California Gold Rush. This event helped to shape the history of the United States of America, especially the western states. Interesting facts about the era include:
- The discovery of gold caused one of the largest mass migrations in the country’s history.
In 1848, California was a newly acquired American territory with only 1000 non-Native American residents. By 1850, the pollution had increased to 100,000 people who had traveled from other areas in America, as well as several foreign countries. The state quickly became the country’s 31st, in just two years, because of this mass migration.
- Entire cities were built on boats.
Many of those seeking their fortunes came to the area in wagons, and other land transport, but there were others who traveled via ships. The majority of these were abandoned by the crew and passengers, once they arrived, to search for gold. As San Francisco expanded, the citizens put these neglected ships to good use and converted many of them to shops, hotels and permanent residences. Others were taken apart to be used as lumber and the remaining ships were left to rot in the harbor, where cities were built on their remains.
- The population was predominantly male.
As prospective miners flooded the area, only 3% of the non-Native American Californian population were female. Saloons would keep shows which featured women, who were employed as ‘model artists’ (strippers) and ‘fancy ladies’ (servers), to attract customers. The female population began to grow after 1850, however, when many miners started bringing their families to the area. By 1860, the non-native female population of California had increased to 19%.
- When the Gold Rush began, California had no banks.
The American banking crisis that occurred in the 1830s and 40s, resulted in California passing a provisional constitution in 1849 which banned the opening of state or commercial banks. At the start of the Gold Rush, individuals were responsible for controlling capital in the area. The first government mint in the state was opened in 1854.
- Merchants became more wealthy than miners.
Even though there were a few miners that hit the Gold Rush jackpot, such as John and Daniel Murphy that found $1.5 million worth of gold in a year, most of the miners did not acquire great wealth. Cities and towns were being built from scratch, however, and enterprising individuals began to provide residents with food, clothing, entertainment and other supplies. Many of these merchants created fortunes and legacies for themselves, including the popular household name Levi Strauss. The tailor arrived in San Francisco with sturdy material and the intention of making covers for tents and wagons. He saw an opportunity to make trousers for the miners, however, which would be strong enough to withstand the harsh labor conditions and subsequently invented blue jeans.