In 1848, pioneers in Sutter's Mill, California discovered flakes of gold in a water outflow. Over the next seven years, 300,000 prospectors descended upon the area, desperately searching for gold. In the process, they brought a major influx of warm bodies to California, transforming San Francisco from a tiny town to a sprawling city, creating roads and railways, paving the way for California's statehood, and laying the groundwork for the agricultural explosion that ended up making the state's fortune. While most of the "miner '49-ers" never hit the motherlode, thousands became life-long Californians, helping to transform the state into the economic powerhouse that it is today.
As far as California's gold deposits are concerned, they continued to be exploited for decades, until the cost of extraction outweighed the value of the gold itself. The same goes for Virginia's gold mining, which ended in the late 1940's. The interesting thing, though, is that the cost of gold has a way of fluctuating, and gold that was previously unworthy of extraction becomes a worthwhile pursuit when the cost of gold goes up.
As it is currently doing.In a recent article, the Financial Times noted that prospectors are once again flocking to the hills of California, eager to make their fortune. Membership in the Gold Prospectors Association of America has had a massive explosion, with registered members tripling. Similarly, commercial mining claims have risen to 2,274 in the first quarter of 2008. By comparison, there were 132 such claims in the first quarter of 2005.
According to popular legend, during the first gold rush, the merchants that supplied the miners actually made even more money than the miners themselves. In all likelihood, that will be the case again. For example, prospecting suppliers are currently selling molded-plastic "gold panning kits" for over $30 apiece, and folding shovels are going for $11.49. Still, if you're getting tired of your desk job and are looking to make your fortune, maybe you could do worse than packing up the family and moving to gold country!
Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. While he isn't about to become a "miner 2008-er," he is extremely aggressive about picking up change in the street. That counts for something, right?
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