Was It Easy to Make a Profit during the California Gold Rush?

The California Gold Rush began in January 1848, when gold was accidentally found at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. As news of the discovery spread, some 300,000 people began streaming into Northern California, creating a crush of hopeful individuals looking for their own golden opportunities. Gold worth billions in today’s dollars was recovered during the next seven years, but most of the so-called "forty-niners" (as in 1849) barely broke even. However, those who provided housing, transportation, entertainment, and food for the miners usually made out pretty well. Prices skyrocketed almost overnight, to the point where a slice of bread might cost a dollar -- two dollars if it was spread with butter. A dozen eggs could be sold for the equivalent of $90 USD in today’s currency.

The golden age of California:

  • By the time the Gold Rush madness subsided in the mid-1850s, California had gone from being a sparsely-populated former territory to becoming the home of John C. Frémont, the Republican Party's first presidential nominee.

  • Some well-known business icons got their start during this time. During the Gold Rush, the meatpacking industrialist Philip Danforth Armour made $8,000 by the time he was 24.

  • Levi Strauss, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, developed tough denim clothing for the miners, while automaker-to-be John Studebaker got his start in business by making wheelbarrows.

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More Info: Smithsonian magazine

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