The California Gold Rush kicked off on January 14, 1848, when James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California, close to the area of present-day Sacramento. The news of gold in the area spread across the country and beyond, resulting in more than 300,000 people coming to California from all over the United States and even abroad. The discovery of gold and the influx of gold prospectors reinvigorated the American economy and catapulted the population of the West Coast. California advanced straight to statehood without having to become a U.S. territory first. The Gold Rush lasted until about 1855.
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The Gold Rush substantially changed the lives of California residents. Indigenous societies were pushed off of their lands by gold-seekers. They were decimated by disease, genocide, and starvation, resulting in the precipitous decline of the native population.
Half of the gold-seekers came to California by way of the California Trail and Gila River Trail. The rest came by sea from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and China. It was not only gold that primed the economy. Agriculture also flourished and fed the gold-seekers. Roads, schools, churches, and towns were built all throughout California. New methods of transportation were also developed with steamships regularly stopping at California ports. In 1869, railroads were built from California to the eastern part of the country.
There was no law regulating property rights at the beginning of the Gold Rush. Gold-seekers developed a system of staking claims over goldfields.
The gold prospectors used a very simple technique of panning for gold in streams and riverbeds. Later, more sophisticated methods of gold recovery were adopted. At the peak of the Gold Rush, technological advances were utilized for the faster recovery and processing of gold, requiring significant financing. This gave rise to the formation of gold companies. These companies bankrolled gold recovery and processing. Tens of billions of dollars in gold were unearthed in California, leading to great wealth for the gold companies, while most gold prospectors returned home with much less money than they had started with.