The discovery of gold nuggets by a carpenter named James W. Marshall in the American River determined the fate of today’s one of the most affluent American states, California. On January 24, 1848, while working to construct a water-based sawmill for John Sutter, an influential German origin Swiss citizen, found some flakes of gold. This single event made California the primary target of the people all around the world who desperately wanted to change their future. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Coloma, California, surrounding the American River in search for gold. This downtrodden war-worn region suddenly turned out to be the most important economic and political concern of mid-nineteenth century America.
Some rapid changes took place in California following the 1848 gold rush. In the following year, 1849, so many people came to California in with an intention to gold mining that, a new term was coined to address them, the Forty Niners. The population of the new city grew dramatically. From only 800 people living there in March 1848, the figure grew substantially to become 20,000 in December same year, and reached approximately 100,000 by the end of 1849 (History.com Staff). This eventually resulted in California’s being one of the most populated states of today’s United States of America. On the contrast, the influx of local and foreign miners in the region had drastic effect on the lives of the Native Americans living there for long. They couldn’t cope up with newly developed lifestyle in the region. The Native American population plummeted sharply, dropping from approximately 150,000 before the discovery of gold rush to only 30,000 in just next twelve years (Samson).
California had been a Mexican territory before the US-Mexican war. The war ended with a treaty that handed over the territory to the United States in the same year the gold rush was discovered. Scholars suggest that, it would take decades for the new-born US territory of California to achieve statehood unless there was a sudden influx of huge emigrants, economic acceleration and mass settlement that resulted from the 1948 gold rush. Not surprisingly, the US politicians were in a constant pressure that, the new-born region may deliberately choose to be connected with nearby powerful states as Russia if they were not treated properly by the government. Therefore, thanks to the gold rush, California was declared to be the 31st state of United States of America only within two years of its inclusion as a US territory.
A comparison between the gold rush and the agricultural productions in the state of California regarding which one contributed more for the prosperity of the state will be helpful to analyze the impact of gold rush in California. Today, agriculture and mining altogether covers a very tiny portion of Californian economy, only 2% to be specific. But at the very beginning of California’s history as an American state, these two were the primary sources of socio-economic development.
There are several factors that determine the economic potentials of a land; the fertility of the arable land, sufficient resources, specially the rivers, and finally, enough people to cultivate and take care of the land productions. California was a fertile land with excellent agro-friendly environment. The land only lacked enough population to start cultivation. It is surprising to learn that only several hundred non-native people lived in such a fertile land before the discovery of gold rush. However, the gold rush was the event that brought hundreds of thousands of people in the land, who decided to get settled there permanently thanks to the fortune the gold rush brought for them. A huge settlement like this was necessary for the agricultural potentials to flourish in California. Therefore, it can be claimed arguably that, Californian agriculture is greatly indebted to the 1848 gold rush.
The gold rush had many social impacts. As mentioned earlier, the Native Americans suffered a death-blow as a result of the new environment they encountered. Their number had already begun to diminish after the Spanish settlers came in the land in 1769. Approximately 300,000 natives lived there before the European settlement, which gradually diminished to almost half of the original by the year of the gold rush (History.com Staff). The miners and the gold traders considered the natives as impediment to their activities. They became united to kill the natives in regular basis. The gold rush is hugely responsible for the current threat of the extinction of Native American tribes.
One of the worst impacts of the gold rush was that it destroyed the ecological balance in the mining area. It killed the habitats of the wilderness, which in turn resulted in the scarcity of food for the Native American hunter gatherers. The excavation also literally destroyed the beautiful landscape of the region. As the miners came from all around the world, a racial intermingling took place substantially. People from various ethnicities started to live together as neighbors. At least 50 languages were spoken in the region. People wore various kinds of dresses, yet no one looked stranger. Theft and robbery were not prevalent during the early years following gold rush, because everyone present there was busy collecting their own gold nuggets. The ratio of women to the men was insufficient. As a result, brothels were opened. The practice of homosexuality grew substantially among men.
From an economic point of view, gold rush was the most important event in the history of California. San Francisco, the most important city of California, flourished. Only 400 people were living there before the year 1845, which increased to become 35,000 by the year 1850 (Samson). The rush literally boosted up the state and national economy. Gold mining in the year 1852 was worth $81 million, and approximately $170 million was extracted in between the years 1860 and 1880 (Samson). All kinds of business including manufacturing, trade, transport, housing etc boomed. The business magnets from the east coast as well as from foreign countries began to invest in the trades centered on San Francisco and California. Following the gold rush till today, California has been one of the richest and most productive states of America.
All that the fertile land of California needed to flourish was people’s attention, and that is what the 1848 gold rush have done. It was the first milestone in the history of California. No doubt that the economic boost it provided was enormous, but it was temporary. Therefore, the most significant credit of gold rush to the state of California, if we are to determine one, would be to draw the attention of the people to California.