What were conditions like mining for gold in the 1800's?

Expert Answers
lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Greedy and speedy" might be an appropriate way to describe the first miners to head to Callifornia in one of the greatest gold rushes in history.  Hoping to get rich quick, the earliest miners used simple sieve-like pans, crouched at the edge of the water for long hours, panning for gold, and the earliest ones often managed to make a fairly lucrative living--but not for long.  Such huge numbers of people heading overland toward California soon make traditional panning a means to barely cover room and board and food, although a resourceful entrepreneur, Sam Brannan, didn't pan for gold, but instead, made his millions selling pans, picks and shovels to the newly arrived miners. 

As the mining industry developed, so did the processes and procedures; individual miners panning for themselves and their families' well-being gradually gave way to companies and corporations who could afford to invest in the heavy machinery required to dig ever deeper after the surface gold appeared to be exhausted.  These types of investment corporations often employed hundreds of miners, and the same issues arose for these workers as were arising in factories all over the United States, particularly in the Northeast, and as far west as Chicago:  long hours, unsafe working conditions, unfair wages.  There were no laws regulating factories or protecting factory workers back East, and there were certainly none of those protections in what came to be called the "Wild West".