Just how grand was the California Gold Rush? Lets consider the city of San Francisco, which ballooned from 1,000 to 25,000 by the end of 1849 alone. It wasn't just sheer numbers that made the gold rush so impactful however, it was its reach on the entire globe that set it apart. Miners and businessmen alike gathered from the far corners of the globe; from China to Australia to Brazil. No distance was too great an undertaking for the promise of riches the goldfields could provide. It was not an easy journey but claims of gold nuggets and the opportunity to make money off the miners brought forth a diverse group of motivated individuals that would shape the character and diversity of the newly formed state.
Who were these individuals that flocked to California? They were primarily men, especially at first. They were merchants, craftsmen, and laborers. Bakers, sailors, and medics. All brought together by a shared dream of finding wealth in the California goldfields. The early rush of 1848 featured mostly miners from the Oregon area and the nearer parts of Latin America. As time progressed new inhabitants started flocking from all parts of America, all the way across from the East Coast. These individuals had to partake in a treacherous six month journey over land or by sea around the tip of South America. Many fell ill and died along the way. The travelers hardy or lucky enough to survive were joined by fortune seekers from virtually ever continent on the globe. The Chinese in particular made the long ocean passage in tremendous numbers. Of the nearly 300,000 individuals that made the journey for California's gold during the peak influx, 1848-1855, over 25,000 were Chinese.
To give a glimpse to the power of the draw the gold rush had on these Argonauts (a term given to the miners), lets take a moment to analyze the type of wealth that was possible to be gained. For the early miners, at a time in America when an average days labor of 12 hours garnered about $1.00, the goldfields were a destination too good to be true. In the same amount of time the average miner could earn $16.00. If we transpose that into today's market for California where minimum wage stands at $10.00 an hour and the average work week sits at 40 hours, multiply that by 52 weeks a year and a 1,600% increase and we get $332,800 a year (before taxes ;)). Not too shabby for a minimum wage job eh? Any takers?
It is not hard to see why the gold rush was so enticing. Only hard work and dedication were required to make a hefty sum. The reality of the riches found by those early miners and their 300,000 followers quickly met the reality that the easy to grab gold was soon gone. By 1850 the average miner could earn only roughly $2.00 a day. The decreasing accessibility of gold led the miners to discover new ways of extracting it. The gold was still there it was just finer and trapped inside the hills. For more on the ingenuity of the miners and the technological advances brought on by the gold rush check back into our future blog.