The gold rush that created a federal state

News Arnulf Hinkel – 10.02.2017

On the subject of gold rushes, the Californian gold rush which peaked in 1849 will be the first to come to mind. It was, however, neither the first nor the only one in the history of America. The first documented one occurred in Brazil in 1693, and among the most famous are the Colorado Gold Rush, the Black Hills Gold Rush and the Klondike Gold Rush.

The Californian gold rush is however the most legendary, and the independent state owes its very existence to it. The first regional press reports on the discovery of gold nuggets near San Francisco were released in March 1848. Numerous soldiers of fortune followed the call of the gold, and the population of San Francisco had grown from 10,000 to 25,000 by the end of 1849. The New York Herald reported on the discovery of gold on August 19, 1848, and an unprecedented nationwide hunt for the precious metal started. Some companies had to close down because they no longer had enough workers, and countless ships lay abandoned in Californian harbors because the sailors had been gripped by gold fever.

The explosive growth of the Californian population had catastrophic effects on people's health and safety: during the winter of 1851 a huge cholera epidemic broke out, and the city of San Francisco was incinerated six times within less than three years. In addition to unbearable hygienic conditions, the gold rush also led to a moderate environmental disaster, as more than 7,000 tons of mercury were released due to the gold mining, poisoning both groundwater and rivers. Only few gold diggers actually succeeded in becoming rich. Most of them never achieved the prosperity they dreamed of, and often the few lucky ones quickly lost their new fortune. In 1854, the private hunt for gold largely ended in the advent of industrial gold mining.

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