Gold rush

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Gold nuggets
Pan for panning for gold

A gold rush (from English gold rush , literally and correspondingly " gold rush " or "gold rush"; English rush and German rush are false friends ), more rarely gold fever , is a period of increased immigration to an area, in which there are either recoverable amounts of gold or at least rumors of such deposits.

The gold rush of the 19th century caused many thousands of workers all over the world to give up their jobs, for example in a factory of the industrial revolution , and - sometimes with their families - to move to a gold field to seek their fortune.

History and origins of the gold rush

Special properties of gold and its rarity were the reason for ascribing its own mysticism to it. Rumors of fabulous cities or countries where "the gold is on the street" were circulating again and again (see also the land of milk and honey ). A fabulous gold country called Ophir is mentioned in the Bible .

The Spanish conquistadors in Central and South America were also looking for a golden city called Eldorado . There is a gold country in various myths .

The development of a gold rush depends on information and transport, which is why it is not surprising that all known gold rushes took place in a time and society that already had steam engines (railroad, steamship) and telegraphs, with the exception of the Brazilian gold rush from 1693. At the same time, great social upheavals took place. As a result of the mechanization of industry and agriculture, many people were uprooted in their homeland and driven into emigration (see also emigration in the 19th century ). In their country of immigration , they had to build a new existence for themselves - often under difficult or adventurous conditions. Those driven by their fate formed the basis of every real gold rush. Cities, even large ones, could emerge in the process, and in some cases (as in the California gold rush) it favored the spread of the inhabitants across an entire country.

Factors that favored gold rushes at that time were improved transport routes to the gold fields, first quick communication channels and people's dissatisfaction with their living conditions. Especially with gold rushes like the one in Alaska or Canada, where the prospectors' journey was difficult and dangerous, many prospectors died on the way there. Especially with long lasting gold rushes like the Colorado Gold Rush, it often happened that after the end of the gold rush, the gold seekers continued to live where they had now spent a considerable part of their lives.

Famous gold rushes

The first known gold rush in history was triggered by extensive finds in Brazil from 1693/95. It brought 10 to 15 tons of gold to Europe annually for almost the entire 18th century.

Gold rushes in North and South America

There have been three major gold rushes in North America . The first documented gold rush on US territory occurred in Charlotte , North Carolina in 1799 . The biggest was the California gold rush . This also includes the “Colorado Gold Rush” and the gold rush on the Klondike River in Canada and on the Yukon River in Canada. 1874 at Custer in the Black Hills in South Dakota discovered gold, and there also was a gold rush, during which the Cheyenne were expelled. There were also significant gold finds in Virginia City (Montana) in 1863, in Comstock Lode / Nevada in 1859 (also silver finds), in Oregon in 1850, in British Columbia in 1850 and Idaho in 1863. These finds triggered no or only an insignificant gold rush.

Poster from 1849 for ship passages to California for the gold rush

Californian gold rush

Main article: California gold rush

On January 24, 1848, James W. Marshall discovered the first gold pieces while building a sawmill for Johann August Sutter on the American River , near what is now the California capital of Sacramento . The shop owner and newspaper publisher Samuel Brannan from the small town of San Francisco at the time opened further shops with goods for gold miners and triggered the gold rush in California with a newspaper article about the finds. In 1849, most immigrants came by ship (all around South America, the Panama Canal was only opened in 1914) or by land. More than 80,000 people came within a year alone. An average of 30 grams of gold were found every day, which corresponded to 20 times the daily wage of a worker from the east coast. In 1853, the search for gold was revolutionized with the introduction of a high-pressure water jet device ( called hydraulic mining ). On September 3, 1850 California became the 31st state of the USA (partly because of the gold discoveries and the increasing population) . The land on which the gold was discovered actually belonged to the landowner Johann August Sutter, whose rights were ignored, who lost everything and died impoverished. He tried in vain to keep the gold finds on his territory secret.

In 1927, the events of this gold rush in German-speaking countries were treated in literary terms by Stefan Zweig in his novel The Discovery of Eldorados - a biographical story about Johann August Sutter. The narrative is embedded in Zweig's historical series of miniatures, Great moments of mankind . Sutter's story was also filmed in 1936 by and with Luis Trenker (producer, screenplay, director and leading role) under the title The Emperor of California . This German film adaptation is based on the French-language novel L'or by the Swiss writer Blaise Cendrars , published in German translation by Yvan Goll in 1925 under the title Gold. The fabulous story of General Johann August Suter .

Colorado Gold Rush

  • Year of beginning: 1858
  • High point: 1860s and 1870s
  • Location: in the South Platte River, around Denver etc.
  • Immigrants: mostly from California (due to the rare gold finds there)

In 1858 gold and later silver were found in the South Platte River (north of Pikes Peak ) . In the 1870s, the state of Colorado had a population of over 60,000. Many settlements like Denver sprang up and grew. Colorado became a US state in 1876.

Montana Gold Rush

Main article: Montana Gold Rush

In May 1863, William Fearweather and a group of miners including Barney Hughes, Thomas Cover, Henry Rodgers, Henry Edgar, and Bill Sweeney discovered gold in Alder Gulch, about 80 miles east of Bannack, Montana, which at the time was still Montana Territory ( English Montana Territory) was called. When they brought their gold to Bannack to buy supplies, the gold discoveries quickly became public and soon many more prospectors poured into Virginia City. In 1864, four prisoners of the Confederate States Army named Washington Barker, Pomp Dennis, Jack Thompson and John Wells decided to spend the winter together in the Confederate Gulch, a steep gorge on the western slopes, during their release in late fall of the same year the Big Belt Mountains to look for gold there. One day Thompson began to dig a hole in the mouth of this ravine to look for gold and immediately found a small piece of gold the size of a grain of wheat.

In 1865 a group of four men under their leader Carl Joseph Friedrichs, who were referred to as "The Germans", reached Helena (Montana) and soon found what they were looking for in a ravine that would later become famous as Cement Gulch. However, since they were not ready to look for the gold in the bedrock, they looked elsewhere. Friedrichs led the group, including John Schönemann, Alexander Campbell and Thaddeus Judson, through the forest of the main gorge of the Confederate Gulch, dug an exploration hole in the gravel of the valley in a side gorge and found a sensational find. The find in the now so-called Montana Bar was so huge and surprisingly large that in 1904 a newspaper (The Sumpter Miner) reported: “Richest Acre of Ground on Earth - Montana Bar Yielded Over $ 1,000,000 in Gold, Going $ 1,000 to The Pan "(" Richest acre of land in the world - Montana Bar returned more than $ 1,000,000 in gold, $ 1,000 in the (washing) pan "). All gold mines in the Confederate Gulch combined, with the Montana Bar at the foot of Gold Hill turning out to be the most productive of all, produced an estimated 19 to 30 million dollars in gold between 1866 and 1869 (based on the gold price at that time of around $ 17 an ounce of gold), which corresponds to a current value of the equivalent of $ 301 to $ 475 million (as of 2018).

Black Hills Gold Rush

Around 1860, the Roman Catholic missionary Father De Smet reported seeing Sioux carry gold from the Black Hills . Although the area was guaranteed to the indigenous people by the Treaty of Laramie of 1868, gold prospectors became increasingly interested in the region. In 1874 gold prospectors found the first small deposits near Custer. The much larger deposits were discovered in Deadwood Gulch, whereupon thousands of prospectors founded the settlement Deadwood , although it was located on Indian territory.

Gold rush on the Klondike River

Main article: Klondike gold rush

Gold digger settlements during the gold rush in Klondike
  • Year of start: 1896
  • High point: 1897/98
  • Location: Dawson on Bonanza Creek , ElDorado Creek etc. (Alaska and Yukon)
  • Immigrants: first from California (around San Francisco), then Europe and Asia

Gold was discovered in Alaska as early as 1872 . It was Joe Juneau and Richard Harris who did it in Sitka . The gold discoveries followed in 1873 in Circle and in 1886 in Forty Mile . Cities like Dawson or Juneau , the capital of Alaska, were founded.

Possible routes to the gold fields on the Klondike

On August 16, 1896, George Washington found Carmack and his Indian relatives Tagish Charlie (whose real name was probably Charlie Dawson) and Skookum Jim Gold in Rabbit Creek , near the tributary of the Klondike River into the Yukon River, which then flies into Bonanza Creek was renamed. The original document of the claim reservation is a bit indistinct to read, it could well be dated August 14th or 17th. The area was so remote that the news of the great gold discovery did not reach the outside world until July 14, 1897 with the Excelsior paddle steamer . The gold rush began immediately. First of all, gold prospectors from San Francisco and the surrounding west coast traveled to the Klondike River. Later also Europeans (e.g. Germans, Italians, Norwegians, British) and Asians (Chinese and Japanese) joined them.

Gold prospecting trek at the Chilkoot Pass in the winter of 1897/98

Most prospectors went to Skagway or Dyea in Alaska by steamers . From there it was on foot over the White or the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett . At the top of the pass is the border between the United States and Canada, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police allowed only those who carried at least a ton of food and equipment to pass through. Boats and rafts were built on the lake with which the prospectors drove after the ice break up in the Yukon River and on this about 740 kilometers to the boom town of Dawson City. Many turned back on the grueling journey, some paid for the risk with their lives. About 40,000 adventurers reached the legendary gold fields near the former elk pasture. Few of them got rich because they came far too late, as the gold prospectors already in the region had secured the best claims .

The gold rush was artistically processed in the works of Jack London and in poems by Robert W. Service . Charlie Chaplin's film Gold Rush , an ironic commentary on greed for money, achieved world fame . In the comics about the character Dagobert Duck , he lays the foundation stone for his fortune on the Klondike and later fondly and often remembers this time.

Even today there are many prospectors in Alaska and the Yukon Territory . However, they no longer go about their work with a pickaxe, shovel and panning pan , but use the most modern machines. The soil is moved with large bulldozers and excavators and washed in so-called sluice boxes . This means that even the smallest amounts of gold can be washed out.

Fairbanks Gold Rush

Main article: Fairbanks Gold Rush

  • Year of start: 1902
  • High point: 1900s
  • Location: Fairbanks ( Alaska ) on what is now called Pedro Creek.
Geological map of the Fairbanks District

The Fairbanks Gold Rush began after the Italian-born Felice Pedronini (in America he called himself Felix Pedro) found gold in the Alaska Interior region on July 22, 1902 , and the news about it from the Japanese immigrant Jujiro Wada (1872 / 5-1937) to Dawson City to spread the word that gold had been found. The gold rush ended first in 1911, as the further gold mining could only be continued by gold diggers brought in with the Alaska Railroad in the 1920s , whereby the frozen ground first had to be thawed. The Fairbanks Exploration Company, which had previously acquired claims in an area of ​​30 by 50 km, extracted 3.5 million ounces of gold with their excavators in the following 30 years with the current value (as of July 2020) of approx. 5 billion euros.

Brazilian gold rush

Main article: Serra Pelada

  • Year of start: 1978
  • Peak: 1980s
  • Location: low mountain range in northern Brazil
  • Immigrants: up to 950,000 landless from the coastal regions

The gold rush was the largest in Latin America. From 1992 the productivity dropped sharply; In addition, the inflow of groundwater made it necessary to use more professional extraction techniques.

Gold rush in Australia

There have been several gold rushes in Australia, the first of which, triggered by the discovery of a 40 kg gold nugget, caused an immigration movement that increased its population almost tenfold in about a decade and triggered social changes that civilized Australia from a convict colony of Australia State changed.

Bathurst, Bendigo, Ballarat and Mount Alexander gold rush

Memorial to the first recognized gold discovery in Australia at Andersons Creek
  • Year of beginning: 1851
  • Peak: 1850s
  • Locations: anywhere (starting from Bathurst), especially New South Wales and Victoria
  • Immigrants: mostly Californians, British and Chinese

Edward Hammond Hargraves from New South Wales discovered the first gold nugget in Australia on February 12, 1851 in a body of water near Bathurst . It was a quartz gold block with a gold content of 40 kg. Hargraves had already searched for gold in California two years earlier, before heading to Australia. The Australian government wanted to keep the find a secret for fear of a gold rush similar to that in California, but there were other gold discoveries near Melbourne on Mount Alexander in Victoria and in numerous other places in Australia. The gold deposit on Mount Alexander was considered the largest on earth in 1852, and the first Chinese gold diggers came there in 1854.

In 1852 the number of immigrants had increased sevenfold to 95,000. In just a decade, the population grew to 1,200,000. The citizens got richer and richer, but there was more and more unrest. In the British colony, originally laid out as a convict colony, the rights and claims of free citizens were not planned. From the beginning there were civilians who did not belong to the administration of the prison camps, but all of them were dependent on the camps. Together with the judiciary, they formed a class of their own, which showed a clear distrust of both the new immigrants and the released convicts.

The gold prospector immigrants had to pay high license fees and had no right to vote because they did not own any land. In 1854 a gold prospector was killed by police officers in Ballarat in the course of the Eureka Stockade , which led to riots in Victoria in which 38 prospectors were killed. 400 police officers attacked an insurgent group of 120 gold prospectors. The government then decided to respond to the demands (no license fees, voting rights, ...). In 1861 the Chinese founded a gold mining company, which was soon closed by the British colonial authorities because the Chinese were sending the gold directly to China and thus cheating the crown out of the tax.

Temora gold rush

Before the Gold Rush in Temora in New South Wales began in 1879, this place was a small settlement of farmers mainly from Germany. Gold was found near the village as early as 1869, but the gold rush did not begin until 1879. At the height of the gold rush, the place had 20,000 inhabitants. Very large nuggets were found in the gold field. The Mother Shipton Nugget, which broke in three pieces, weighed 308.35 ounces .

Teetulpa gold rush

The Teetulpa gold field in South Australia had more than 5,000 prospectors by the end of 1886, other sources say 7,000. It was discovered on October 5, 1886 by the farmers Thomas Brady and Thomas Smith. The main lack of water was, and in December the Water Conservation Department set up equipment that could produce 27,000 liters of fresh water a day. On the first day of trading in gold, Christmas Day 1886, 200 ounces were offered.

Gold rush from Coolgardie

The Coolgardie gold rush in Western Australia began when Arthur Bayley and William Ford found 200 ounces of gold there over a period of five to six weeks. According to Bayley, Ford was the first to find a nugget in a block of quartz stone in a place called a fly flat. Three months later, on September 17, 1892, Bayley returned to Southern Cross with 554 ounces of gold (15.7 kg) , which started this gold rush. By 1898, Coolgardie was the third largest town in Western Australia with a population of 15,000 and more in the area. At its peak, 700 Coolgardie gold companies were listed on the London Stock Exchange .

Patrick Hannan found gold not far from Coolgardie in the Kalgoorlie Boulder area on June 17, 1893. Here, too, the water supply was the biggest problem, which was only solved in 1903 with the construction of a 540-kilometer-long water pipeline, the Golden Pipeline .

As a result of these gold discoveries in the Yilgarn area, the Irish geologist Edward Hardman was employed by the government of Western Australia to search for economically viable gold fields. In 1884, the Hardman expedition found gold in watercourses on the Ord River in the eastern Kimberley , suggesting that gold was found in this remote area. Gold deposits were found a year later, but a gold rush did not set in, presumably the deposits were too small.

New Zealand gold rush

In May 1861 , gold was discovered in the Otago region by Gabriel Read , who had previously mined the gold fields of California and Australia. Read's discovery in Gabriel's Gully , which is named after him, was made public at a time when well-funded mining companies in Australia were ousting independent miners or replaced them with cheaper Chinese wage laborers. The news was therefore very well received by Australian gold prospectors, who translated by the tens of thousands to New Zealand and triggered the gold rush in Otago . Over 60,000 kg of gold were mined there in the first three years. Later, the Chinese took over the abandoned sites. This gold rush also includes the 80 gold fields near Arrowtown , which were created based on the findings of a sheep shearer in 1862.

In 1864 two Māori gold was found on the west coast near the Taramakau River , which triggered the West Coast Gold Rush and ended the Otago Gold Rush . Hokitika became the most populous settlement in New Zealand with 25,000 inhabitants in 1866.

The discoveries made in 1867 on the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula near Thames triggered the first gold rush on the North Island . Further finds were made at Waihi in 1878 . The two events are known as the Coromandel Gold Rushes . At Waihi, gold is still being mined underground in the 21st century , but the Martha Mine has been closed since 2015.

The discoveries made in Karori near Wellington in 1869 triggered the last gold rush in New Zealand, which was short and unsuccessful and ended in 1873.

South African gold rush

  • Year of start: 1886
  • Peak: 1890s, 1900s
  • Location: Transvaal , especially Witwatersrand
  • Immigrants: only a few

In 1886 gold was found on the Witwatersrand south of Pretoria in the Transvaal. In contrast to other gold deposits, there were few immigrants. These foreigners bought up the local gold mines. Many blacks and poor whites mined the gold for the mine owners. Few real gold diggers came to Witwatersrand. Around 1900 the Transvaal Republic became the largest gold producer in the world.

Film adaptations

  • Gold Rush (Original title: The Gold Rush ), silent film comedy by Charlie Chaplin from 1925. The film thematizes the Klondike gold rush.
  • The Trail of '98 from 1928
  • Klondike Annie from 1936
  • About the Death Pass , an American western directed by Anthony Mann from 1954. The film is set in 1896 in Alaska at the time of the legendary Klondike gold rush.
  • In 1974, based on Jack London's novels “Alaska Kid” and “Kid & Co” , DEFA made the feature film “ Kit & Co ”, which traced the arduous journey of the motivated adventurer Kit Bellew from a journalist in San Francisco to a respected gold prospector in Dawson City represents. The film could not be shot in Alaska, but still captivates the breathtaking landscapes, which only a connoisseur can distinguish from the original setting.
  • The gold rush. The key period in US history (Original title: The American Experience. The Gold Rush ), 52 minutes, USA 2006. Producers: Randall MacLowry, Laura Longsworth. Directed by Randall MacLowry. In the “American Experience” series. First broadcast: arte , September 29, 2012.


  • Christopher Herbert: Gold Rush Manliness: Race and Gender on the Pacific Slope. University of Washington Press, Seattle 2018, ISBN 978-0-295-74414-8 .
  • James P. Delgado: Gold Rush Port. The Maritime Archeology of San Francisco's Waterfront. University of California Press, Berkeley CA et al. 2009, ISBN 978-0-5202-5580-7 .
  • Kevin Starr, Richard J. Orsi (Eds.): Rooted in Barbarous Soil. People, Culture, and Community in Gold Rush California (= California History Sesquicentennial Series. 3). University of California Press, Berkeley CA et al. 2000, ISBN 0-520-22497-3 .
  • Susan Lee Johnson, Stacey Smith: Gold Rush: A History in Documents. Oxford University Press, New York 1998, ISBN 978-0-19-517725-1 .
  • Malcolm J. Rohrbough: Days of Gold. The California Gold Rush and the American Nation. University of California Press, Berkeley CA et al. 1997, ISBN 0-520-20622-3 , (standard work).
  • William Weber Johnson: The Gold Rush. 2nd Edition. Time-Life books, Amsterdam 1995, ISBN 90-6182-527-X , (richly illustrated Time Life volume).

Individual evidence

  1. Michael North: The Money and Its History . CH Beck, Munich 1994, p. 121 ( excerpt (Google) )
  2. ^ Gold Rush - Gold Fever - California 1848–1854. Retrieved November 18, 2013 (detailed article on the California gold rush 1848–1854).
  3. a b The Alaska Gold Rush in Fairbanks, In: (English)
  4. ( Memento of March 4, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 663 kB): Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park , in English, accessed on November 16, 2011.
  5. ( memento of November 23, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 633 kB): Gold Strike, Victoria, in English, accessed on November 16, 2011.
  6. a b Temora History. Retrieved February 1, 2012 .
  7. ^ The Teetulpa Goldfield. Retrieved February 1, 2012 .
  8. ^ The History of Arrowtown. Retrieved August 25, 2018 .
  9. III.The West Coast Gold Rush. Retrieved August 25, 2018 .
  10. ^ Paul Monin : Thames during the gold rush . In: Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand . Ministry for Culture & Heritage , accessed September 11, 2018 .
  11. Paul Bensemann: Go Goldmining! In: PledgeMe. Retrieved August 25, 2018 .
  12. Extension to Waihi will be notified . In: Otago Daily Times Online News . July 30, 2018 ( [accessed August 25, 2018]).
  13. NZ's most unsuccessful gold-rush . In: Radio New Zealand . February 1, 2018 ( [accessed August 25, 2018]).
  14. ^ Geocaching: Karori Gold Rush (Wellington) . ( [accessed August 25, 2018]).

Web links

Commons : Gold Rush  - Collection of Images
Wiktionary: Gold Rush  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations