California Gold Rush


In January 1848 gold was found near John Sutter’s sawmill in California. The discovery started the California gold rush, during which over 300,000 people from all over the world came to California to become rich. Although most of them were Americans and European immigrants who travelled to California overland from the eastern coast, many came from South America and Asia by ship. When they got to California the 49ers, as they were called, created their own camps with tents and huts.

At the beginning of the gold rush the gold nuggets lay on the ground and just had to be picked up. Gold found in rivers was panned. Towards the end of the 1950s most gold that lay on the surface had already been mined. New companies started using machines to excavate gold and separate it from rock. Many people became millionaires almost overnight, but other gold diggers left California without having found anything.

The gold rush had a great influence on the American west.  The population of California grew very quickly and in 1850 it became an American state. Before the gold rush people lived in small towns spread across the state. San Francisco grew from a small settlement of only 200 people to a booming gold town of over 30,000 by 1850. When gold diggers arrived they had to build roads and other infrastructure throughout the area. The gold rush helped complete the first transcontinental railway in the middle of the century to get people to the west coast as fast as possible.

At the start of the gold rush California was a lawless state. Whoever found gold could keep it and had the right to dig it out of the earth. While only few people became really rich digging for gold, California attracted thousands of people who set up various kinds of businesses.  One of them was Levi Strauss who began selling jeans in San Francisco in the 1850s. Others opened up stores and other shops for miners.

Gold turned out to be valuable for the settlers in California.  Nuggets were exchanged for goods that miners needed. Foreigners often sent gold back home. New banks emerged that exchanged gold for banknotes.  Shortly after gold had been found the first gold coins were minted.


The California gold rush also had many negative impacts. Native Americans, who lived in areas where gold was discovered, were driven away by white settlers. They lost much of their habitat and food supply because fish were poisoned and animals killed.

The “California dream” became closely associated with the gold rush. Immigrants travelled to the Golden State to seek their fortune and become rich, as many others had done before them. In the following decades California was turned into a land of farmers, movie makers and businessmen who invested in new technology. In the 20th century Silicon Valley, America’s high-tech centre emerged.


Sailing to California on a clipper

Sailing to California on a clipper


Related Topics



  • although = while
  • associate = connect
  • attract = to pull towards something
  • boom = grow and expand quickly
  • business = company
  • camp = place where you stay in a tent; not a permanent home
  • century = a hundred years
  • decade = a period of ten years
  • dig= to make a hole in the earth and get material out of it
  • discovery = something you find for the first time
  • emerge = grow, come up
  • excavate = to make a hole in the ground and dig out material
  • food supply = the things you eat as food
  • fortune= chance , luck
  • habitat = living area
  • hut = small house, mostly made out of wood
  • immigrant = a person who travels to another country to live and work there
  • influence = power to affect the way something develops or grows
  • infrastructure = roads, bridges, schools and other things you need to live
  • lawless = where there are no laws and nobody is in control
  • mine = to dig out of the earth
  • nugget = small piece of metal, found in the earth
  • overland =  across land, not by sea or air
  • pan = to wash earth in a metal container in order to separate gold from other material
  • poison = harmful substances that can kill you or make you ill
  • population= the people who live in a place
  • sawmill = factory where trees are cut into flat pieces that can be used as wood
  • seek = find
  • separate  = divide , break up
  • set up = start
  • settlement = a place where people start living
  • settler = person who starts living in a faraway place
  • spread = reach
  • surface = the top part of something
  • tent = object made up of poles with cloth over them; you can use it for camping
  • throughout = in all of
  • transcontinental = from one coast to another
  • valuable = very important and worth a lot of money
  • various = different