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gold rush

gold rush, influx of prospectors, merchants, adventurers, and others to newly discovered gold fields. One of the most famous of these stampedes in pursuit of riches was the California gold rush. The discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill early in 1848 brought more than 40,000 prospectors to California within two years. Although few of them struck it rich, their presence was an important stimulus to economic growth. Agriculture, commerce, transportation, and industry grew rapidly to meet the needs of the settlers; mining, too, soon became big business as corporations replaced the individual prospector. Vigilante justice and ad hoc political structures quickly gave way to the complex organization of state government. Other large gold rushes took place in Australia (1851–53); Witwatersrand, South Africa (1884); and the Klondike, Canada (1897–98). The excitement of the California gold-rush days has been captured in the works of Bret Harte and Jack London.

See O. Lewis, Sea Routes to the Gold Fields (1949); E. Wells and H. Peterson, The '49ers (1949); P. Barton, The Klondike Fever (1958); R. W. Paul, ed., The California Gold Discovery (1966); D. B. Chidsey, The California Gold Rush (1968); H. W. Brands, The Age of Gold (2002); D. L. Walker, Eldorado: The California Gold Rush (2003).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. History


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