Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill on the American River in 1848 and over the ensuing years over 300,000 people moved to California to make their fortune or support those who worked in the mines. In an interesting turn of events, when miners from the tin and copper mines of Cornwall, Britain, heard about the rich gold vein found, these experienced miners flocked to this area to share their wealth of experience and expertise in hard rock technique. The Cornish provided the bulk of the labor force from the late 1870’s until 1956. When historians talk about boom times, an example is that San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a town of about 36,000 in seven years. The term “49er” comes from the fact that it was in 1949 that news made it around the world that gold had been found in Northern California. 12 million ounces of gold were mined from claims in California in the first 5 years making a few people rich but sadly most when exposed to the dangers of mining, disease, violence and poverty did not get a chance to live the gold dream. Billions of dollars of gold was retrieved in the first five years.
As the gold rush grew, miners and entrepreneurs started relying on other types of transportation for goods and supplies, using boats, steamships and then trains. With the expansion of transportation in the Western United States the need for carriages and horse based transport decreased, and Wells Fargo moved out of the transportation business and back into banking. With branches today all over the world, the company has 9 working museums from San Francisco to Anchorage, Alaska. Their website also contains videos with original commentary about this important part of the history of gold in the United States.
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