Backstory to Gold Rush San Francisco

 

When I began planning to teach of department course “Biography of a City: San Francisco,” it soon became apparent that the pivotal event in the formation of the city’s personality took place during the Gold Rush. Before then, the little village of Yerba Buena had passed through Spanish, then Mexican, then United States possession with only gradual changes. Just before the discovery of gold in the placers, San Francisco had a population of less than 1,000.

Then came the tsunami of immigration: peoples from all over the world came here with one primary purpose: to get rich. The more I studies the culture of Gold Rush San Francisco, these five phrases seemed to me to capture the essence of Gold Rush San Francisco’s personality — traits that still endure today as the dominant features of the spirit of The City:

Reckless and daring spirit

Active, hopeful and industrious

The most democratic country in the world

Labor is respectable.

Ordinary people could do great things.

 Charles Christian Nahl, from  The Idle Miner and the Industrious Miner (1854)

Charles Christian Nahl, from The Idle Miner and the Industrious Miner(1854)

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