Historians credit the California gold rush as one of the most significant events of US nineteenth-century history. It began in late January 1848 when gold was found at Sutter's Mill at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Coloma, California. Just a few days later, before anyone knew of the discovery, the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Hidalgo, which transferred ownership of California from Mexico to the United States. Within months, news that gold had been found in California spread around the world.
In January of 1848, the population of California consisted of about 6,500 Mexican or Spanish people, 150,000 Native Americans, and only about 700 foreigners, most of whom were American. By the end of 1848, about 100,000 Americans had moved to California, and hundreds of thousands more followed. The large American population expedited California's claim to statehood. By September 1850, California was admitted to the Union as a free state.
As the population increased, towns and villages were founded and settled. The gold rush played a large role in the growth and prosperity of the city of San Francisco. The need of the new settlers for communication hastened the construction of infrastructure such as roads, railroads, mail services, and the famous Pony Express. In the lust for gold, Native Americans were pushed off lands ceded to them by treaties. When they refused to move, there was open hostility.
Industries prospered in the wake of the gold rush, as there was a need for mining equipment and machinery, lumber, leather, and clothing. Many people who came to mine gold later turned to farming, which helped in the rapid development of California agriculture. Steamship companies arose to accommodate international gold seekers. New banks grew out of the need to handle California's new-found wealth.
Negative effects included the destruction of the natural environment and animal habitats. As mentioned above, Native Americans were driven off their lands until the Native American population in California became only a small fraction of what it once was. In the mining areas, gambling, prostitution, theft, and violence became commonplace. Men seeking gold in California often left behind women to raise children and manage farms and businesses on their own.
In conclusion, the California gold rush created one of the greatest mass migrations in the history of the United States. This had many profound short and long term consequences of historical significance.