The fastest clipper ships cut the travel time from New York to San Francisco from seven months to four months in the 1849 California Gold Rush.[1]

A gold rush or gold fever is a discovery of gold—sometimes accompanied by other precious metals and rare-earth minerals—that brings an onrush of miners seeking their fortune. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, Greece, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, the United States, and Canada while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.

In the 19th century, the wealth that resulted was distributed widely because of reduced migration costs and low barriers to entry. While gold mining itself proved unprofitable for most diggers and mine owners, some people made large fortunes, and merchants and transportation facilities made large profits. The resulting increase in the world's gold supply stimulated global trade and investment. Historians have written extensively about the mass migration, trade, colonization, and environmental history associated with gold rushes.[2]

Gold rushes were typically marked by a general buoyant feeling of a "free-for-all" in income mobility, in which any single individual might become abundantly wealthy almost instantly, as expressed in the California Dream.

Gold rushes helped spur waves of immigration that often led to the permanent settlement of new regions. Activities propelled by gold rushes define significant aspects of the culture of the Australian and North American frontiers. At a time when the world's money supply was based on gold, the newly-mined gold provided economic stimulus far beyond the goldfields, feeding into local and wider economic booms.

The Gold Rush was a topic that inspired many TV shows and books considering it was a very important topic at the time. During the time, many books were published including The Call of the Wild, which had much success during the period.

Gold rushes occurred as early as the times of ancient Greece, whose gold mining was described by Diodarus Sicules and Pliny the Elder.

Surviving the gold rush

A man leans over a wooden sluice. Rocks line the outside of the wood boards that create the sluice.
Swedish gold panners by the Blackfoot River, Montana in the 1860s
Gold prospecting at the Ivalo River in 1898
Jets of water at a placer mine in Dutch Flat, California sometime between 1857 and 1870

Within each mining rush there is typically a transition through progressively higher capital expenditures, larger organizations, and more specialized knowledge.

A rush typically begins with the discovery of placer gold made by an individual. At first the gold may be washed from the sand and gravel by individual miners with little training, using a gold pan or similar simple instrument. Once it is clear that the volume of gold-bearing sediment is larger than a few cubic metres, the placer miners will build rockers or sluice boxes, with which a small group can wash gold from the sediment many times faster than using gold pans. Winning the gold in this manner requires almost no capital investment, only a simple pan or equipment that may be built on the spot, and only simple organisation. The low investment, the high value per unit weight of gold, and the ability of gold dust and gold nuggets to serve as a medium of exchange, allow placer gold rushes to occur even in remote locations.

After the sluice-box stage, placer mining may become increasingly large scale, requiring larger organisations and higher capital expenditures. Small claims owned and mined by individuals may need to be merged into larger tracts. Difficult-to-reach placer deposits may be mined by tunnels. Water may be diverted by dams and canals to placer mine active river beds or to deliver water needed to wash dry placers. The more advanced techniques of ground sluicing, hydraulic mining and dredging may be used.

Typically the heyday of a placer gold rush would last only a few years. The free gold supply in stream beds would become depleted somewhat quickly, and the initial phase would be followed by prospecting for veins of lode gold that were the original source of the placer gold. Hard rock mining, like placer mining, may evolve from low capital investment and simple technology to progressively higher capital and technology. The surface outcrop of a gold-bearing vein may be oxidized, so that the gold occurs as native gold, and the ore needs only to be crushed and washed (free milling ore). The first miners may at first build a simple arrastra to crush their ore; later, they may build stamp mills to crush ore at greater speed. As the miners venture downwards, they may find that the deeper part of vein contains gold locked in sulfide or telluride minerals, which will require smelting. If the ore is still sufficiently rich, it may be worth shipping to a distant smelter (direct shipping ore). Lower-grade ore may require on-site treatment to either recover the gold or to produce a concentrate sufficiently rich for transport to the smelter. As the district turns to lower-grade ore, the mining may change from underground mining to large open-pit mining.

Many silver rushes followed upon gold rushes. As transportation and infrastructure improve, the focus may change progressively from gold to silver to base metals. In this way, Leadville, Colorado started as a placer gold discovery, achieved fame as a silver-mining district, then relied on lead and zinc in its later days. Butte, Montana began mining placer gold, then became a silver-mining district, then became for a time the world's largest copper producer.

By region

Australia and New Zealand

Main article: Australian gold rushes

Ballarat's tent city in the summer of 1853–54, oil painting from an original sketch by Eugene von Guerard

Various gold rushes occurred in Australia over the second half of the 19th century. The most significant of these, although not the only ones, were the New South Wales gold rush and Victorian gold rush in 1851,[3] and the Western Australian gold rushes of the 1890s. They were highly significant to their respective colonies' political and economic development as they brought many immigrants, and promoted massive government spending on infrastructure to support the new arrivals who came looking for gold. While some found their fortune, those who did not often remained in the colonies and took advantage of extremely liberal land laws to take up farming.

A chart showing the great nuggets of Victoria at Museums Victoria

Gold rushes happened at or around:

In New Zealand the Central Otago Gold Rush from 1861 attracted prospectors from the California Gold Rush and the Victorian Gold Rush and many moved on to the West Coast Gold Rush from 1864.

North America

Further information: Gold mining in the United States and Klondike Gold Rush

The first significant gold rush in the United States was in Cabarrus County, North Carolina (east of Charlotte), in 1799 at today's Reed's Gold Mine.[4] Thirty years later, in 1829, the Georgia Gold Rush in the southern Appalachians occurred. It was followed by the California Gold Rush of 1848–55 in the Sierra Nevada, which captured the popular imagination. The California Gold Rush led to an influx of gold miners and newfound gold wealth, which led to California's rapid industrialization, as businesses sprung up to serve the increased population and financial and political institutions to handle the increased wealth.[5] One of these political institutions was statehood; the need for new laws in a sparsely-governed land led to the state's rapid entry into the Union in 1850.[6]

The gold rush in 1849 also stimulated worldwide interest in prospecting for gold, leading to further rushes in Australia, South Africa, Wales and Scotland. Successive gold rushes occurred in western North America: Fraser Canyon, the Cariboo district and other parts of British Columbia, in Nevada, in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, eastern Oregon, and western New Mexico Territory and along the lower Colorado River. There was a gold rush in Nova Scotia (1861–1876) which produced nearly 210,000 ounces of gold.[7] Resurrection Creek, near Hope, Alaska was the site of Alaska's first gold rush in the mid–1890s.[8] Other notable Alaska Gold Rushes were Nome, Fairbanks, and the Fortymile River.

Miners and prospectors ascend the Chilkoot Trail during the Klondike Gold Rush.

One of the last "great gold rushes" was the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon Territory (1896–99). This gold rush is featured in the novels of Jack London, and Charlie Chaplin's film The Gold Rush. Robert William Service depicted in his poetries the Gold Rush, especially in the book The Trail of '98.[9] The main goldfield was along the south flank of the Klondike River near its confluence with the Yukon River near what was to become Dawson City in Yukon Territory, but it also helped open up the relatively new US possession of Alaska to exploration and settlement, and promoted the discovery of other gold finds.

The most successful of the North American gold rushes was the Porcupine Gold Rush in Timmins, Ontario area. This gold rush was unique compared to others by the method of extraction of the gold. Placer mining techniques were not able to be used to access the gold in the area due to it being embedded into the Canadian Shield, so larger mining operations involving significantly more expensive equipment was required. While this gold rush peaked in the 1940s and 1950s, it is still active today with over 200 million[10] ounces of gold having been produced from the region. The gold deposits in this area are identified as one of the largest in the world.[11]


In South Africa, the Witwatersrand Gold Rush in the Transvaal was important to that country's history, leading to the founding of Johannesburg and tensions between the Boers and British settlers as well as the Chinese miners.[12]

South African gold production went from zero in 1886 to 23% of the total world output in 1896. At the time of the South African rush, gold production benefited from the newly discovered techniques by Scottish chemists, the MacArthur-Forrest process, of using potassium cyanide to extract gold from low-grade ore.[13]

South America

5-gram gold coin from Tierra del Fuego issued by Julius Popper.

Further information: Brazilian Gold Rush and Tierra del Fuego gold rush

The gold mine at El Callao (Venezuela), started in 1871, was for a time one of the richest in the world, and the goldfields as a whole saw over a million ounces exported between 1860 and 1883. The gold mining was dominated by immigrants from the British Isles and the British West Indies, giving an appearance of almost creating an English colony on Venezuelan territory.

Between 1883 and 1906 Tierra del Fuego experienced a gold rush attracting many Chileans, Argentines and Europeans to the archipelago. The gold rush began in 1884 following discovery of gold during the rescue of the French steamship Arctique near Cape Virgenes.[14]

Mining industry today

There are about 10 to 30 million small-scale miners around the world, according to Communities and Small-Scale Mining (CASM). Approximately 100 million people are directly or indirectly dependent on small-scale mining. For example, there are 800,000 to 1.5 million artisanal miners in Democratic Republic of Congo, 350,000 to 650,000 in Sierra Leone, and 150,000 to 250,000 in Ghana, with millions more across Africa.[15]

In an exclusive report, Reuters accounted the smuggling of billions of dollars' worth of gold out of Africa through the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, which further acts as a gateway to the markets in the United States, Europe and more. The news agency evaluated the worth and magnitude of illegal gold trade occurring in African nations like Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia, by comparing the total gold imports recorded into the UAE with the exports affirmed by the African states. According to Africa's industrial mining firms, they have not exported any amount of gold to the UAE – confirming that the imports come from other, illegal sources. As per customs data, the UAE imported gold worth $15.1 billion from Africa in 2016, with a total weight of 446 tons, in variable degrees of purity. Much of the exports were not recorded in the African states, which means huge volume of gold imports were carried out with no taxes paid to the states producing it.[16]

By date

Before 1860





20th century

21st century

See also


  1. ^ Ralph K. Andrist (2015). The Gold Rush. New Word City. p. 29. ISBN 978-1612308975.
  2. ^ Reeves, Keir; Frost, Lionel; Fahey, Charles (22 June 2010). "Integrating the Historiography of the Nineteenth-Century Gold Rushes". Australian Economic History Review. 50 (2): 111–128. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8446.2010.00296.x.
  3. ^ Wendy Lewis, Simon Balderstone and John Bowan (2006). Events That Shaped Australia. New Holland. ISBN 978-1-74110-492-9.
  4. ^ a b "The North Carolina Gold Rush". Tar Heel Junior Historian 45, no. 2 (Spring 2006) copyright North Carolina Museum of History.
  5. ^ Nash, Gerald D. (1998). "A Veritable Revolution: The Global Economic Significance of the California Gold Rush". California History. 77 (4): 276–292. doi:10.2307/25462518. JSTOR 25462518.
  6. ^ McPherson, James M. (1988). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-503863-7.
  7. ^ "Gold Rushes: The First Gold Rush". Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. Archived from the original on 30 January 2022. Retrieved 30 January 2022.
  8. ^ Halloran, Jim (September 2010). "Alaska's Hope-Sunrise Mining District". Prospecting and Mining Journal. 80 (1). Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  9. ^ "Biographie".
  10. ^ "The gold exploration surge continues in Timmins". 22 August 2022.
  11. ^ Turner, Bob; Quat, Marianne; Debicki, Ruth; Thurston, Phil (2015), "Timmins: Canada's greatest goldfields!" (PDF), Natural Resources Canada and Ontario Geological Survey 2015, GeoTours Northern Ontario series
  12. ^ Ngai, Mae M. (2021). The Chinese question : the gold rushes and global politics. New York. ISBN 978-0-393-63416-7. OCLC 1196176649.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ Micheloud, François (2004). "The Crime of 1873: Gold Inflation this time". FX Micheloud Monetary History. François Micheloud: Archived from the original on 2006-05-20.
  14. ^ Martinic Beros, Mateo. Crónica de las Tierras del Canal Beagle. 1973. Editorial Francisco de Aguirre S.A. pp. 55–65
  15. ^ Soaring prices drive a modern, illegal gold rush, New York Times, July 14, 2008
  16. ^ "Gold worth billions smuggled out of Africa". Reuters. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Gold rush". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-31.
  18. ^ Malone, Michael P.; Roeder, Richard B.; Lang, William L. (1991). "Chapter 4, The Mining Frontier". Montana : a history of two centuries (Rev. ed.). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. pp. 64–91. ISBN 978-0-295-97129-2. Retrieved 19 December 2014.
  19. ^ Murphy, Alan; Armstrong, Kate; Bainbridge, James; Firestone, Matthew D. (January 27, 2010). Southern Africa. Lonely Planet. ISBN 9781740595452 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ "The Baile an Or project– Scotland's Gold Rush Retrieved: 2010-03-31". Archived from the original on 2011-06-25. Retrieved 2010-03-31.
  21. ^ Dollimore, Edward Stewart. – "Kumara, Westland". – Encyclopedia of New Zealand (1966).
  22. ^ Flanigan, Sylvia K. (Winter 1980). Thomas L. Scharf (ed.). "The Baja California gold rush of 1889". The Journal of San Diego History. 26 (1). San Diego Historical Society Quarterly.
  23. ^ Levitan, Gregory (2008). "1: History of gold exploration and mining in the CIS". Gold Deposits Of The CIS. Xlibris Corporation. p. 24. ISBN 9781462836024. Retrieved 2017-10-29. The early 1930s were marked by the decision of the Communist Party Politburo to reinstate the institution of prospectors who had been banned as antisocialist elements in the second half of the 1920s. Littlepage described in his book (1938) that by 1933 all plans to put prospectors back to work in the field had been worked out and implemented as rapidly as possible. Regulations to govern relations between prospectors and Gold Thrust were drawn up, setting in motion a Soviet gold rush.
  24. ^ Rationalizing Mining Operations at the Diwalwal Gold Rush Area, Monkayo, Compostela Valley
  25. ^ Marlise Simons (1988-04-25). "In Amazon Jungle, a Gold Rush Like None Before". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-31.
  26. ^ Henton, Dave, and Andi Flower. 2007. Mount Kare Gold Rush: Papua New Guinea 1988 – 1994. ISBN 978-0646482811.
  27. ^ Ryan, Peter. 1991. Black Bonanza: A Landslide of Gold. Hyland House. ISBN 978-0947062804.
  28. ^ Grainger David (December 22, 2003). "The Great Mongolian Gold Rush The land of Genghis Khan has the biggest mining find in a very long time. A visit to the core of a frenzy in the middle of nowhere". Retrieved 2011-04-24.
  29. ^ Yassin Ciyow (2021-07-06). "In Côte d'Ivoire, the precarious life of women gold prospectors". Le Retrieved 2022-02-07.
  30. ^ Jens Glüsing (February 9, 2007). "Gold Rush in the Rainforest: Brazilians Flock to Seek their Fortunes in the Amazon". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 2011-04-24.
  31. ^ Tom Phillips (January 11, 2007). "Brazilian goldminers flock to 'new Eldorado'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-04-24.
  32. ^ Lauren Keane (December 19, 2009). "Rising prices spark a new gold rush in Peruvian Amazon". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-04-24.
  33. ^ Chamberlain, Gethin (January 17, 2018). "The deadly African gold rush fuelled by people smugglers' promises". The Guardian. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  34. ^ Alissa Descotes-Toyosaki (2 April 2018). "Niger: the gold rush". Paris Match. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  35. ^ "In Congo's gold rush, the money is in beer and brothels". The Economist. 2020-12-19. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2021-03-29.
  36. ^ "Congo bans mining in South Kivu village after gold rush". Reuters. 2021-03-04. Retrieved 2021-03-29.

Further reading