In 1848, gold was discovered in California. As soon as the news spread of this discovery, people from all over the United States of America started rushing to California. They all wanted to ‘strike it rich’, which meant that they hoped to find a piece of land or water with gold, so they could mine it to make money. In total, about 300,000 people went to California to prospect for gold.
In 1848, James Marshall was building a sawmill near the Coloma city. During the construction, he found pieces of gold in the river. He then shared this discovery with John Sutter for whom he was building the mill. In this way, these two men became the first to discover gold in California. They tried to keep the discovery a secret but more and more people got to know about it anyway. And when the word got it, hundreds of thousands of more people came rushing to the area.
When James Marshall and John Sutter discovered gold near Coloma in 1848, the California area was inhabited by around 14,000 Native Americans while white settlers had a very small population. This changed very quickly once the gold was discovered.
In 1848, 6000 settlers from outside California reached the state and started prospecting for gold. In 1849, 90,000 more people arrived to do the same. In this way, the population of California increased very rapidly. Most of the newcomers were white miners and prospectors from the American states in the East. But at the same time, gold prospectors from areas as far as China and Europe also arrived to try their luck.
Once thousands of miners and settlers started arriving in California, they established new towns. Usually, they would establish a town near a place with enough gold to mine. These towns started out small and grew rapidly. Once miners were successful in mining gold, businesses such as shops and bars were quickly established in the towns.
Due to their rapid increase in size, these towns were often called ‘boom towns’. But the problem with boomtowns was that as soon as the mines near the town ran out of gold, people started leaving the town. They then found a new place rich with gold and established a town there. The older town was then quickly abandoned and no longer had any residents. For this reason, such abandoned towns were called ‘ghost towns’.
The California Gold Rush began in 1848 and continued until 1855. During this time, many people made a lot of money from gold mining while many couldn’t find much and had to return home empty-handed. However, the population of the area grew so rapidly that in 1850, California was made the 31st state of the United States of America.
By 1855, proper gold mining companies had been formed and gold mining was no longer possible for any single person traveling to California. This finally led to an end to the Gold Rush. In all, about 12 million ounces of gold was extracted between 1848 and 1855. In today’s estimation, this is equal to more than $20 billion.