California had only just been wrenched from Mexico when James Marshall, a carpenter from New Jersey, discovered a gold at John Sutter’s Mill in Coloma in 1849. As the news of his finding spread, tens of thousands of people migrated from across the United States and abroad, seeking riches in what would become known as the California Gold Rush. Did the wealth these migrants sought actually materialise? Using Californian censuses from 1850 and 1852 and other sources, the researchers analysed the incomes of workers during the height of the California Gold Rush.
They found that the daily incomes for workers who had migrated to California did compare favourably to those of day labourers in most other states. However this was usually counterbalanced by a far greater cost of living in California, meaning that miners were “in all likelihood worse off, than the labourers in the rest of the United States”.
Yet for some people the California Gold Rush did provide financial boon. The research reveals that good money was earned by professionals, managers, clerks, craftsmen and salesmen who came to California not to mine but to provide services to the flood of miners. The likes of hotel managers, doctors and merchants profited greatly from the miners whose dreams of gold rarely materialised.
California Gold Rush facts
- The Gold Rush begins in 1848 and ends around 1856.
- More than 90,000 people make their way to California in the two years following the discovery of gold, and more than 300,000 by 1854.
- When gold is discovered in 1848, there were only seven Chinese in California. By 1852 there are at least 20,000 Chinese and still arriving.
- John Sutter Jr. was convinced by Samuel Brannan to lay out a new town on the banks of the Sacramento River.
- Between 1848 and 1856 about $465 million worth of gold is taken out. The first year $10 million worth of gold is found. The remaining years $40 million to $60 million is found.
- In 1848 California has fewer than 300,000 head of cattle. By 1860 cattle increase to 3 million head.
- Merchants and saloon keepers provide the first banking service.
- African Americans were among the first miners.
- 24th January – James Marshall discovers gold in the tailrace of the sawmill in Coloma, which is being built for John Sutter.
- 9th March – First gold rocker is used.
- 15th March – The Californian, a San Francisco newspaper, is the first to print a story regarding the discovery of gold.
- 12th May – Samuel Brannan a storekeeper at Sutter’s Fort, publisher of a newspaper, The California Star, and first millionaire in California, stirs up excitement about gold. He gathers a bottle full of gold dust and rides to San Francisco.
- Brannan runs up and down the streets shouting, “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” And the rush is on.
- 21st May – Samuel Kyburz opens a hotel at Sutter’s Fort.
- Sutter’s Mill is shut down in the middle of May due to high water.
- November – The first ship leaves the East Coast for California with gold seekers aboard.
- 8th January – An auction is held at Sutter’s Fort for the sale of lots near the fort. Lots near the river increase in demand.
- January – The first recorded execution for murder is held in Old Dry Diggings (Placerville).
- Vigilantes drive away masses of Chileans, Mexicans and Peruvians from Sutter’s Mill.
- First wagon train departure from Missouri and Iowa traveling to California for the Gold Rush. Over 20,000 people make the trip.
- The Embarcadero (Old Sacramento) population is estimated at 150 people. By October it is estimated at 6,000.
- By the end of June, 11 wholesale houses and 14 smaller stores are located at the Embarcadero.
- October – People start leaving Europe for California.
- The first brick house, the Anchor, is completed by G. Zins in Sacramento.
- Chileans and Mexicans dominate the southern mines in 1849 and 1850. They knew how to separate gold from gravel by using a process called “winnowing,” which involves shaking blankets filled with dirt until only gold remains. They are also experts at tunnel and shaft mining.
- 5th January – The California Exchange opens
- 13th April – A foreign miners’ tax is passed by the California Legislature. Foreign miners have to pay a monthly license fee of $20 to give them the right to mine for gold.
- June – The first recognized discovery of gold quartz is made in Grass Valley.
- By the summer the “Long Tom” was widely used as a mining tool. It supplemented the cradle.
- From 15,000 to 20,000 Mexicans and perhaps as many Chileans, prepare to leave or have left California for their own countries.
- The Settlers and Miners Tribune is established by James McClatchy and two others.
- The census of 1850 finds that 73 percent of California’s population is between the ages of 20 and 40, and 92 percent is male.