A teacher from a class at a local primary school in Norwich recently had his students look into the 1849 Gold Rush in California, and the results were amazing! He got in touch with us to see if we could help share the student’s work and we were able to put some of the posters and 3-D models on display in the Library. In fact their work is here now until the end of January!
The California Gold Rush
The Gold Rush lasted from 1848 when some golden nuggets were found at Sutter’s Mill until 1855 and shaped California into the state that it is today. In 1846 San Francisco was a small settlement of a few hundred and in six years had grown to over 35,000 by 1852. Some 300,000 people came to California, and although only a few became rich, people settled and built up farms, roads and towns to support the influx of people from the United States and abroad. California became a state in 1850 and the railroads came to California in 1869.
This rapid population increase had a huge impact on California and the American West, as well as influencing the global economy. Some historians have even said that the Gold Rush influenced and changed what people thought of as the ‘American Dream’:
The old American Dream … was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard”… of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck. [This] golden dream … became a prominent part of the American psyche only after Sutter’s Mill.
– Historian H. W. Brands in The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream, 2002
This would have a profound impact on American life and culture from then until today. In addition to the wide ranging and long-term impacts, the stories of the individuals and families who made the arduous trek to California is fascinating. Some travelled up to 6 months across North America or on ships via Panama or around South America, facing diseases, hunger, storms, conflicts with bandits and some Native Americans as well as requiring great physical and mental stamina to make the trip.
Come on in and learn more!
To find out more and test your own knowledge, come and see the Gold Rush board game, informative and interactive posters and detailed models of what panning for gold and life as a “forty-niner” were like.
If you’d like to learn a little bit more about the California Gold Rush, or the other major Gold Rush in American history, the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska check out some of these books: