The California Gold Rush (1848-1855) began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California.
The discovery of the gold nugget in the Sacramento Valley in early 1848 sparked the Gold Rush. As news spread of the discovery, thousands of gold miners traveled by sea or over land to San Francisco and the surrounding area. A total of $2 billion worth of precious metal was extracted from the area.
Throughout 1849, people around the United States borrowed money, mortgaged their property, and spent their life savings to make the trip to California. In pursuit of the kind of wealth they had never dreamed of, they left their families and hometowns. Thousands of gold miners, known as '49ers, traveled overland across the mountains or by sea, sailing to Panama or even around Cape Horn.
The non-native population of California was estimated at 100,000. To accommodate the needs of the '49ers, gold mining towns had sprung up all over the region. The overcrowded chaos of the mining camps grew more lawless, including banditry, gambling, and violence.
After 1850, the surface gold in California disappeared. As gold became more and more difficult to reach, the growing industrialization of mining drove more miners from independence into wage labor. Gold mining had reached its peak by 1852, when some $81 million was pulled from the ground.