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California Gold Rush


Panning the Mokelumne
In 1848 James W. Marshall found gold along the American River at the site of a lumber mill named Sutter's Mill located near Coloma, California in the Sierra Nevadas. Word got out about the find, first in San Francisco, and then in the east coast newspapers. Immigrants from all over the world flocked to California to find their riches in gold. These gold prospectors were given the nickname of "forty-niners" in recognition of the year they had come to California.

Many of the early prospectors were able to make a decent profit for their efforts, and a few did manage to make themselves rich. Many prospectors went home with less than the came with, some didn't make it home at all; one out of every twelve 49er died. The businessmen who managed the retail, entertainment and lodging in the mining towns had much better luck at making money than most of the prospectors. Later in the gold rush it was the owners of the mining companies that were making the best profits, and many prospectors worked for these companies for wages.

California Gold Rush Map
The gold in California wasn't limited to the Sierra Nevadas. In 1851 gold was discovered in Northern California, many of the 49ers left to work these new grounds.

The California gold rush had significant effects, both locally and around the world. The population of California increased dramatically and in 1850 it was made a state. Many prospectors sent their gold home, and home to a 49er could have been anywhere in the world. Countries from around the world found a huge new market for their goods and California saw a steady supply of ships.

It is estimated that in the first five years over 12 million ounces of gold was recovered. Later the hydraulicking, dredging and hard-rock mining produced even more gold.
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