Monday, August 19, 2013

Aug 19 (1848) New York Herald Reports Gold in California; "In the days of old, in the days of gold"

Gold rush cartoon, showing dock crowded with men with picks and shovels, and men jumping from the dock to reach departing ship; a crowded airship and a man on a rocket fly overhead; and a man with a pick and shovel parachutes from the airship. From loc.gov

On this day in 1848, the New York Herald broke the news to Easterners that California is a source of gold. Though seven months late, and probably lifted from the California Sun (which printed the news in April 1848), it was a big deal nonetheless. Within four years, more than one percent of the nation's population had moved to California.

The economic impact of the discovery was major. According to the Economic History Association, California’s gold production in 1849 alone exceeded  cumulative U.S. production of gold in the years 1792 to 1847 (37 tons). Annual production from 1848 to 1857 averaged 76 tons. During this decade California’s gold production equaled $550 million – about 1.8% of American GDP.

Here's an excerpt the letter printed in the Herald, purportedly from a "correspondent" (some argue said correspondent was the California Sun's owner Samuel Brannan).

"[California] has a mine of gold...and without allowing any golden hopes to puzzle my prophetic vision of the future, I would predict for California a Peruvian harvest of the precious metals, so soon as a sufficiency of miners, mineralogist, and metalogists find their way hither, and commence disbouging her hidden treasures."

Listen to Bob Dylan perform the folk classic "Days of '49"

Further Reading
Herald of the Gold Rush: Sam Brannan, Douglas S. Watson, California Historical Society Quarterly Vol. 10, No. 3 (Sep., 1931), pp. 298-301

A history of the Gold Rush from the Economic History Association (eh.net).

Smithsonian Folkways: Songs of the Gold Rush
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Flannery O'Connor

You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.