How California Got Expensive: Remembering the Gold Rush

While it took some time for the news of gold in California to make it all the way back to the President and Congress, the precious metal was actually discovered at Sutters Mill in Coloma, California on January 24, 1848.

California Gold Miners, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

US President, James K. Polk then announced the discovery in an address to Congress on December 4, 1848, nearly a year later and set off the greatest gold rush in history.  According to Wikipedia, nearly 300,000 people “rushed” to California to search for gold and were dubbed the forty-niners because they didn’t start coming en masse until 1849.

In his address to Congress, Polk says: “It was known that mines of the precious metals existed to a considerable extent in California at the time of its acquisition. Recent discoveries render it probable that these mines are more extensive and valuable than was anticipated. The accounts of the abundance of gold in that territory are of such an extraordinary character as would scarcely command belief were they not corroborated by the authentic reports of officers in the public service who have visited the mineral district and derived the facts which they detail from personal observation.”

On December 11, 1848, a few days after Polk’s announcement, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “Already people have become California mad.” The article goes on to talk about all of the boats set to leave from New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore in search of “El Dorado.”

The Gold Rush helped San Francisco evolve from a tiny settlement of a couple hundred people to a city of about 36,000 in roughly three years.  The toll of the Gold Rush on indigenous peoples was, of course, terrible, many Native Americans were pushed from their homes to make way for the miners. 

Levi Stauss, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Additionally, while many miners made some profit, very few became enormously rich and many were just lucky if they came into contact with gold residue let alone big chunks of gold.  One study mentioned by Wikipedia suggested that the merchants providing services to the miners become more rich than the miners themselves. Levi Strauss, the inventor of blue jeans and founder of famous clothing company, Levi Strauss & Co., became incredibly wealthy from selling his tough work pants to the local miners and other workers in San Francisco.

The Gold Rush also gave California a nickname which stuck, the “golden state,” and also inspired the term the “California Dream,” which for many supplanted the idea of the “American Dream.”

It also kicked the area into high gear in terms of development, becoming a proper state and creating infrastructure for its newly growing population.

Polk told Congress that, “This abundance of gold and the all-engrossing pursuit of it have already caused in California an unprecedented rise in the price of all the necessaries of life.”

So basically, California got expensive and stayed that way.

Want to know about the California Gold Rush?  Here are some great resources to get you started:

HBD Benjamin Franklin: The Fun Genius

Few historical figures have as many talents and accomplishments as Benjamin Franklin.  He was born in January of either 1705 or 1706 in Boston, Mass in what was then the British colonies.  According to published sources, his impressive list of roles include: writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.

It’s impossible in the space of this blog to do them all adequate justice, so let’s hit on the key themes that ran throughout his life.  First and foremost, he was a writer and this served him well in all of his roles from printer to journalist to politician to inventor to scientist.  He was adept at getting the word out and loved to use pseudonyms for his writings.  When one thinks of the sheer enormity of his writings scratched out by hand using dipper pens and feather quills, the fact that he was a hard worker becomes abundantly clear.

He was also a busy body, and by that I mean a body perpetually in motion. He got a lot done, traveled extensively and was constantly experimenting.  Oh, to have been a guest at one of his dinner parties, especially the ones where he killed the turkey to be eaten with electric shock and cooked it on an electrical spit.  He wrote that this made the turkey “uncommonly tender.” He also humorously penned a series of essays called busy body in which he describes real busy bodies gossiping and such.

On that note, he was also very humorous.  So many of our favorite sayings actually came from his incredibly popular publication, Poor Richard’s Almanack, which is the business venture that made him the most money.  It was a yearly publication that had a circulation of 10,000 and ran from 1732 to 1758.  The almanack was published under the name Richard Saunders, but it was no secret that Benjamin Franklin was the author and featured humorous lines like “He that lies down with Dogs will rise up with Fleas;” “A True Friend is the Best Possession;” and “Haste makes waste.”

Franklin was also a largely self-made man, though it was clear that he had no problem drumming up investors in his businesses. He had no schooling past the age of 10, but was self educated and a voracious reader and the founder of the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was a subscription library where member dues were pooled together to purchase books for lending.  Today the Library Company of Philadelphia is a large and successful public research library. 

Although he was born in Boston, he spent much of his adult life in Philadelphia except for large amounts of time spent working in London on both scientific and diplomatic issues, and the years he served as the American Ambassador to France and Sweden.  

His many experiments and resulting inventions are legendary including the lightning rod- which was inspired by his efforts to conduct electricity- the Franklin stove, the glass harmonica and bifocal glasses.

Franklin held many public offices and participated in numerous political groups.  Most well known was his participation in the Second Continental Congress in 1775-1776 as the representative for the Pennsylvania Assembly where he was one of five authors of the Declaration of Independence.  According to his Wikipedia page, he is also, “the only Founding Father who is a signatory of all four of the major documents of the founding of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution.”  He also served as the Postmaster General of British America from 1753 to 1774.

Oddly, when I attended high school, we were made to read his essay, “Dialogue Between Franklin and the Gout.”  Therefore, I have always associated Franklin with the gout, which plagued him in his later years.  Here is a funny, brief excerpt from that essay:

FRANKLIN.  Eh! Oh! eh! What have I done to merit these cruel sufferings?

GOUT.  Many things; you have ate and drank too freely, and too much indulged those legs of yours in their indolence.

FRANKLIN.  Who is it that accuses me?   

GOUT.  It is I, even I, the Gout.

Certainly, if I had the chance to sit down with Benjamin Franklin, he might have something funny to say about my associating him entirely with the gout over his other notable achievements.

Benjamin Franklin died at the age of 84 in Philadelphia from pleurisy, an inflammation of the membranes in the lungs and chest cavity, and had over 20,000 attendees at his funeral.  

Here are some resources to help you learn more about Benjamin Franklin:

January 1935: The King of Rock and Roll is Born

Happy Birthday Elvis Aaron Presley! One of the most significant figures in music history was born on January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, a small town in northeastern Mississippi.  

He was preceded in life by a stillborn twin brother, and spent his early years with his parents, Vernon and Gladys, in a two-room, shotgun house built by his father.  He would get his first guitar around age 11 and would become obsessed with music, often playing at school.  

What a gift it is to find your talent and passion at such a young age and despite being told to give up on music by both school teachers and music professionals alike in his early years, Elvis pressed on. He began recording music around 1953, and the rest is in actuality history.

Many music greats including John Lennon, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen credit Elvis with inspiring them to create music.

In addition to making the famous statement that “Before Elvis, there was nothing,” Lennon also said, “Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been The Beatles.” 

To really understand the magic of Elvis, you have to watch one of his early performances.  Youtube has several amazing videos of Elvis singing and dancing in 1956 including this video of Jail House Rock, and another of him singing Hound Dog on The Ed Sullivan Show. These videos really capture the energy and intoxicating nature of his performance style. So many have emulated him since that to our 2021 selves, it seems almost everyday, but when watching the videos, try to remember that he invented this genre, this was literally a first.

Of course, during the conversative social setting of the 1950s, Elvis’ dancing and singing was seen by many as lurid.  Elvis himself said of his style, “Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do ‘em all together, I guess.”

As we know, his adult home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee has become a major tourist destination.  I visited Graceland during the late 1990s and I don’t think I was in a place to really appreciate it back then. I remember being shocked by the shag carpet and overly trendy 1960s-era furnishings.  I need to go back as a proven and seasoned adult to appreciate better what that home meant to him and to music.

Elvis died of a heart attack at a very young 42 years of age in 1977.  His excessive drug use was causative in bringing on an early death.  Had he lived, he would be a grandfather in his eighties today, and most certainly would have given us all waves upon waves of additional musical delight.

I think Dolly Parton, my own favorite musical legend, said it best, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you have accomplished something. Elvis did that and more for me and so many others.”

Happy birthday to the one and only king.

Here are a couple of good resources to help you learn more about Elvis Presley:

January 1925: Nellie Tayloe Ross Becomes the First Female Governor in the US

Nellie Tayloe Ross, much like Miriam “Ma” Ferguson in Texas, found entry into the then male-dominated world of politics through her husband.  In Nellie’s case, her husband, William B. Ross, the sitting governor of Wyoming had recently died of appendicitis.  For Ma Ferguson, her husband had been removed from office through impeachment.

Nellie was asked by the Democratic party in Wyoming to run shortly after her husband’s passing and accepted, according to relatives, in part because she needed the job.  She was easily elected even though Wyoming at the time was a predominantly Republican state and she was subsequently inaugurated on January 5, 1925, just days before Ma Ferguson was sworn in.

Within her first few days of leadership, she shocked the New York Times when on January 16, 1925, she wore her hat and gloves while addressing the Wyoming legislature and “defied precedent.”

Her time as governor was short-lived.  She finished her husband’s term, and did her best to further the populist agenda he had introduced, which included, according to the  Wyoming State Historical Society, issues like spending cuts, state loans for farmers and ranchers, prohibition, school budgets, stronger bank regulation, funding for universities, safety for coal miners and for women in industrial jobs among several other pursuits. Nellie lost re-election in 1926, but that was not the end of her political career.  

A campaign card, from Gov. Ross’s 1926 re-election campaign. American Heritage Center.

In 1928-29, she moved to Washington to work full time as a Director at the Democratic National Committee, and helped to drive women to vote for presidential candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1933, Roosevelt appointed Nellie to a position as the Director of the Bureau of the Mint, which is a government agency responsible for printing and distributing currency.  She served in this role for the next 20 years having been appointed to three, five-year terms by Roosevelt and one, five-year term by his successor, Harry Truman.  She retired in 1953 and spoke and wrote widely until her death at 101 years old!

Some critics felt like Nellie did not do enough to help other women get ahead in politics, but whether she was as woke as she could have been, Nellie still seized opportunity when it fell in her lap and helped to break a key glass ceiling in the United States.

Want to know more about Nellie?  Here are some sites to visit: