The promise of gold and wealth forever changed the economic, political, and social landscape of the state of California. It also had a huge impact on the environment. In their bid to find gold, the newly arrived settlers washed away hillsides using high-powered jets (a practice known as hydraulic mining) and dug thousands of mine shafts into the Sierra Nevada foothills. According to Malcolm J. Rohrbough, a gold rush historian, “The landscape looked like it had been dug up by giant moles.”
Here are some more interesting facts about the Gold Rush that you may not know.
1. James Marshall discovered gold by accident
James W. Marshall arrived in California as a carpenter overseeing the construction of a sawmill. It was during his work that he found gold by accident. No one believed him at first. It was only when President James Polk validated the discovery of gold almost a year later that people began to flock to California in search of the precious metal.
2. In one year, two brothers mined $1.5 million worth of gold
Murphys, California, is named after John and Daniel Murphy. These two brothers came to the Sierra Nevada in 1848 and mined almost $1.5 million worth of gold within a year, which would be worth about $40 million today! While most people weren’t that lucky, some other miners did find thousands of dollars worth of gold.
3. Levi’s jeans became popular during the Gold Rush
Levi Strauss was one of the many people who wanted a bite of the Gold Rush pie. So he went to California and sold his signature blue jeans to the miners. The ruggedness of the material and its durability made the jeans an instant hit because they could withstand the harshest working conditions. And within a few years, Strauss patented the pants and sold them all across the country.
4. The Gold Rush gave rise to the world’s first international financial crisis
One of the events that led to the end of the Gold Rush was the sinking of the SS Central America, a wooden steamship carrying 30,000 pounds of gold (worth about $400 million today). This event, known as the Panic of 1857, was the first financial crisis that impacted the international economy.
Want to know more about the California Gold Rush history? Come to El Dorado County! Visit the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma, just a few miles away from Placerville, where you can see the very spot where James Marshall struck gold for the first time. Less than five minutes away from downtown Placerville lies the Gold Bug Mine. Go on a mine tour to step back into the Gold Rush era and experience what it was like to live and work during that time.
Photo courtesy of MrTrowbridge on Instagram.