The tech boom may have brought jobs and opportunities to Silicon Valley, but with it came rising rent and house prices, and astronomical grocery bills. In fact, the total cost of living in San Francisco is 62.6% higher than the U.S. average—and the average rent on a two bedroom apartment is the highest in the country.
But when you compare that to the gold rush of the mid-1800s, it’s small change.
In today’s money, a dozen eggs in the 1850s would have set you back the equivalent of $90, while a pick-axe would have cost the equivalent of $1,500 and a pair of boots around $1,200.
Plain and simple, the U.S. hasn’t witnessed an economic impact like the gold rush before or since.
It all started with a 12-year-old farm boy
So the story goes, the first gold rush in the United States began in 1803, when 12-year-old North Carolina native Conrad Reed discovered a 17 lb gold nugget on his father’s farmland.
To put that into context, 17 lbs is slightly heavier than a bowling ball.
This mammoth find supplied the U.S. mint with all the gold it required until 1829!
The California Gold Rush, which followed in 1848 and lasted until 1855, brought around 300,000 people to the area in search of their fortune. Over the course of those seven years, California was transformed from a little-known hinterland to the 31st state of the United States.
A Boomtown like no other
Of the hundreds of thousands moving to California, the vast majority were American. Their willingness to innovate, coupled with their civic pride, saw to it that roads, churches, and schools were built. Better communication and political connections with the rest of the country were established soon after, leading to statehood in 1850.
The exponential population increase and rise in wealth and influence also led to improved transportation links between California and the East Coast. Steamships set sail from San Francisco Bay, while the western leg of the First Transcontinental Railroad united California with the central and eastern United States. Thanks to Gold Rush money, travel that had taken weeks, sometimes even months, could now be achieved in days.
What’s more, the California Gold Rush helped stimulate economies far beyond its own borders. British manufactured goods were now in demand; Australian and Chilean farmers found a new market for their produce; and clothing made its way from China.
Rumours of immense gold-fueled wealth in the U.S. also helped spark the search for gold elsewhere. Noting the geographical similarity between California and Australia, prospector Edward Hargraves returned to his home country, discovered gold, and brought about the Australian gold rushes in 1851.
The ‘Dream’ goes on
Today, reminders of the Gold Rush are everywhere in California. The state’s nickname is “The Golden State” and its motto is “Eureka”. The NFL team, the 49ers, is named for the prospectors who arrived during the peak of the rush in 1849. And those in search of fame and fortune are said to be pursuing the “California Dream”.
Oil drillers, movie makers, and dot-com startups have all since descended on the state in the hopes of achieving that dream. But none have come close to the seismic economic impact of the Gold Rush.