This week marks the 164th anniversary of the California Gold Rush. The first printed notice of the discovery of gold appeared on March 15th, 1848, in “The Californian,” a San Francisco publication.
The first nuggets of gold were discovered in January of the same year, by accident. A crew of laborers camped on the American River, near Sacramento. They were building a saw mill under the supervision of American carpenter and sawmill operator John Marshall.
On January 24, 1848, while examining the water channel below the partially completed mill, Marshall came upon shiny flecks in the water. He later recounts: “I picked up one or two pieces and examined them attentively; and having some general knowledge of minerals, I could not call to mind more than two which in any way resembled this… I then tried it between two rocks, and found that it could be beaten into a different shape, but not broken…” Indeed, members of the crew tested the shiny substance and easily revealed it to be gold.
Two more discoveries were to follow soon after the American River incident. One at Feather River by General John Bidwell and the second at Trinity River by Major Pearson B. Reading.
The discovery of gold, and more specifically the publication of such discovery, began one of the largest commerce-related human migrations in the history of the United States. It is estimated that as many as a half million people traveled from around the world in search of gold and wealth.
By 1852, the annual gold production in California was a $81 million industry.