California Gold Rush facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
California Gold Rush
1850 Woman and Men in California Gold Rush.jpg
Prospectors working California gold placer deposits in 1850
Date January 24, 1848 (1848-01-24)–1855
Location Sierra Nevada and Northern California goldfields
Coordinates 38°48′09″N 120°53′41″W / 38.8025°N 120.89472°W / 38.8025; -120.89472Coordinates: 38°48′09″N 120°53′41″W / 38.8025°N 120.89472°W / 38.8025; -120.89472
Participants 300,000 prospectors
Outcome California becomes a U.S. state and California Genocide

The California Gold Rush (1848 - 1855) all started when James Wilson Marshall was building a water powered sawmill for John Sutter in 1848. When he finished building the sawmill, he went to the river to fetch some water, but that is when it happened. He saw some shiny little flakes of gold in the river. He immediately went to tell John, and they tried to keep it a secret. But word soon got out, and the gold rush started. The news of gold brought some 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad.

The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. Whole indigenous societies were attacked and pushed off their lands by the gold-seekers, called "forty-niners" (referring to 1849). The first to hear confirmed information of the gold rush were the people in Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and Latin America, and they were the first to start flocking to the state in late 1848. Of the 300,000 people who came to America during the Gold Rush, approximately half arrived by sea and half came overland on the California Trail and the Gila River trail; forty-niners often faced substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly arrived were Americans, the gold rush attracted tens of thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and China. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 36,000 by 1852. Roads, churches, schools and other towns were built throughout California. In 1849 a state constitution was written. The new constitution was adopted by referendum vote, and the future state's interim first governor and legislature were chosen. In September, 1850, California became a state.

Independent Gold Hunter on His Way to California
"Independent Gold Hunter on His Way to California", circa 1850. The gold hunter is loaded down with every conceivable appliance.

At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields and a system of "staking claims" was developed. Prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. Although the mining caused environmental harm, more sophisticated methods of gold recovery were developed and later adopted around the world. New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service. By 1869 railroads were built across the country from California to the eastern United States. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners. Gold worth tens of billions of today's dollars was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few.

Some people became rich but most did not. Besides trying to find gold, some people started selling things. This gave them benefits and popularity. Sometimes a woman could earn more than her mining husband. Men like Levi Strauss also sold things. He invented and sold jeans made from denim. The California Gold Rush ended in 1855. At that time many gold miners went back home because gold was harder to find.

By the time the Gold Rush ended, California had gone from a thinly populated ex-Mexican territory, to the home state of the first presidential nominee for the new Republican Party, in 1856.

Images for kids


California Gold Rush Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.