January 24, 2011

Gold Discovered in California – 1848

James Marshall was a pretty average guy—a carpenter and a sawmill operator. But on this date in 1848, he made a discovery that changed his life. Heck, it changed a whole lot of people's lives!

He was examining the channel below the sawmill he was constructing in partnership with John Sutter in California, which then belonged to Mexico. He noticed some shiny flecks in the channel bed, and he picked up one or two pieces for closer study. He knew a little bit about minerals, and when he saw that the shiny stuff was very bright, brittle, yet malleable (which means it could be beaten into different shapes, without breaking)—and, of course, that it was gold-colored!—Marshall knew that he had discovered precious, valuable gold!

According to his later recounting, he went to one of the carpenters working on the mill and said, “I have found it.” And when he explained that “it” meant gold, the other carpenter protested that it couldn't be gold. But Marshall was sure of himself. And of course, he was right!

However, Marshall's discovery did not make him rich. Instead, his sawmill failed when everybody dropped everything to search for gold, and his later business ventures, a vineyard and a gold mine, eventually failed as well. Neither Marshall, the guy who actually discovered the gold, nor Sutter, the guy who owned the land on which the discovery was made, benefitted from the discovery!

You may already know that people came to California from all over the world to search for gold (or to sell things to miners searching for gold). It is estimated that some 300,000 people came during the Gold Rush!

Find out more!

For more on the discovery of gold, go to the History Net

Take a virtual tour of the Oakland Museum's Gold Rush exhibit. 

Check out these web resources on the women of the Gold Rush. 

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