Skip to Content

Found 225 Resources

Gold Dust Scoop

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Wire-rimmed, three-sided, shallow, tapered rectangular or triangular tray or pan; narrows to open end. Made of one piece, cut and folded at corners. No marks.

Gold Nugget

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
This small piece of yellow metal is believed to be the first piece of gold discovered in 1848 at Sutter's Mill in California, launching the gold rush.

James Marshall was superintending the construction of a sawmill for Col. John Sutter on the morning of January 24, 1848, on the South Fork of the American River at Coloma, California, when he saw something glittering in the water of the mill's tailrace. According to Sutter's diary, Marshall stooped down to pick it up and "found that it was a thin scale of what appeared to be pure gold." Marshall bit the metal as a test for gold.

In June of 1848, Colonel Sutter presented Marshall's first-find scale of gold to Capt. Joseph L. Folsom, U.S. Army Assistant Quartermaster at Monterey. Folsom had journeyed to Northern California to verify the gold claim for the U.S. Government.

The gold samples then traveled with U.S. Army Lt. Lucien Loeser by ship to Panama, across the isthmus by horseback, by ship to New Orleans, and overland to Washington. A letter of transmittal from Folsom that accompanied the packet lists Specimen #1 as "the first piece of gold ever discovered in this Northern part of Upper California found by J. W. Marshall at the Saw Mill of John A. Sutter."

By August of 1848, as evidence of the find, this piece and other samples of California gold had arrived in Washington, D.C., for delivery to President James K. Polk and for preservation at the National Institute. Within weeks, President Polk formally declared to Congress that gold had been discovered in California.

In 1861, the National Institute and its geological specimens, including this gold and the letter, entered the collections of the Smithsonian Institution. The Marshall Nugget remains in the collections as evidence of the discovery of gold in California.

Torah Mantle

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Made in Wenkheim, Germany, this silk Torah mantle was brought to San Francisco by Jewish immigrants during the California gold rush and presented to Congregation Emanu-El. Founded in 1850, Emanu-El (Hebrew for "God is with us") was one of the first synagogues in San Francisco. It provided a spiritual and social community for German and central European Jews who came to California in search of economic opportunities and political freedom.

"Gold Washers" Snuff Box

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
This snuff box was made in London and used around 1860. The box’s lid is painted with an image four men—two white, and two African-Americans—working a stream for gold with the text “Gold-washers in California” below. Both slave and free African Americans participated in the gold rush as laborers and gold washers. A snuff box carried a powdered tobacco called snuff that was pinched and inhaled nasally.

The Gold Rush Was California's Shortcut to Statehood

Smithsonian Channel
In 1848, pioneer John Sutter and a carpenter named James Marshall discovered gold in a local stream, prompting a major gold rush. Just a year later, California would become America's 31st state. From: AERIAL AMERICA: Northern California

How to Make Money in a Gold Rush

Smithsonian Channel
Thousands rushed to California to find gold and get rich quick, but the people who actually made their fortunes were the merchants who built their businesses to serve the forty-niners.

33c California Gold Rush single

National Postal Museum

Issued June 18, 1999


Heading--Chapter XIII "Sutter's Gold"

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The story of the Klondike [sound recording] : stampede for gold, the golden trail / written and narrated by Pierre Berton

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Program notes ([4] p. : ill.) inserted in container.

Recorded by Sam Gesser.

Heading--Chapter III "Sutter's Gold"

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Heading--Chapter IX "Sutter's Gold"

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Heading--Chapter VII "Sutter's Gold"

Smithsonian American Art Museum

32c Centennial of Klondike Gold Rush single

National Postal Museum

32-cent mint single

Issued August 21, 1998

Menu, 1976 Gold Rush Zinfandel at Chez Panisse

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
The simplicity of this paper menu—a single, printed page with the word “ZINFANDEL” decorating its edges—belies the layers of history behind the particular pairings of food and wine listed. The menu is for the week of November 16-20, 1976, at Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California. Founded in 1971 by Alice Waters, Chez Panisse was the cornerstone of the Berkeley “gourmet ghetto” and the center of a movement that expanded across the country, inspiring a renewed commitment to sourcing and presenting food that was fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and delicious. Reflecting Waters’ interest in French culinary traditions, the menu lists meals for each day in both French and English. It features dishes such as Moussaka with watercress, Snail cassolette, Sorrel consommé, and Salmis of squab—offerings that would have seemed unusual and perhaps exotic to many Americans, who were just beginning to explore new culinary experiences at the time.

The week’s menu is also a celebration of a new, local wine produced by winemaker Walter Schug for Joseph Phelps Vineyards, which had been established in Napa in 1973. The featured wine was the 1976 Gold Rush Zinfandel, produced from grapes grown in Amador County, an area east of Sacramento in the Sierra foothills. Although Zinfandel had been grown in that area since the Gold Rush, the wine was made primarily for local consumption. Winemakers rediscovered the old Zinfandel vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley of Amador County in the 1960s, and, in 1968, Sutter Home vintners produced wine from the old vines for Sacramento wine and food expert Darrell Corti. Corti’s embrace of the varietal helped propel Zinfandel wine into wider acceptance. The Zinfandel Dinner became an annual event at Chez Panisse, an acknowledgement of the new excellence of American wine that emerged in the 1970s. Darrell Corti donated this menu to the National Museum of American History in 2011.

Gold rush : a multi-page serigraph / by Jill Timm

Smithsonian Libraries
Limited edition of 35.

"Gold Rush is pushing the flag book structure-- times 2, making it a double or reversible book, both sides attached to a single spine. It has two covers and two parts of a screen printed image. The stylized image of a bush with golden leaves that lives deep in the forest is a 16 color serigraphy by printmaker Jill Timm."--Publisher's website.

"This book started out as a 15" x 18" serigraph print. The image is printed with oil base inks, and was printed in 16 separate colors on Pyramid Cover. The serigraph was created in 1980. But then turned into a book in 2013. The structure is a double or reversible flag structure flag structure. ... The spine is a Fiber Mark paper, the font is Myriad Pro, the text and cover images are digitally printed with archival ink."--Colophon.

Rigged Model, Extreme Gold Rush Clipper Challenge

National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
The extreme clipper ship Challenge was built at New York by the famous shipbuilder William H. Webb. At its launch in May 1851, the $150,000 Challenge was the largest merchant ship ever built, measuring 227 feet in length by 42 feet in beam and 2006 tons. The high length:beam ratio of 5.4:1 was what made the three-decker an extreme clipper, and it set a few speed records over the course of its working life. The Challenge was expected to set a record on its maiden voyage, and Capt. Robert H. Waterman was offered a $10,000 bonus if he could drive the ship to San Francisco in under 90 days. He pushed his 60-man crew hard, but poor weather and a mutiny by 50 crewmen off Rio slowed the Challenge to a 108-day trip. The mutiny and the unrelated death of seven crew on that maiden voyage gave the ship a bad reputation. Capt. Waterman was relieved of his command after reaching San Francisco, but the next master had to pay a signing bonus of $200 to lure new crewmen aboard for a China trip. Another mutiny on this second leg of the maiden voyage occurred as well—testament to how driven these men were to sail hard and fast. Over the next decade as a China clipper, an additional mutiny, widespread crew illnesses, frequent dismastings and leaks, and other events cemented the bad reputation of the vessel. It was sold to its captain for $9,350 in 1861. The Challenge changed hands a few more times before sinking off the Brittany coast in February 1877.

The days of '49 [sound recording] : songs of the gold rush / sung by Logan English ... Billy Faier

Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections
Program notes by Kenneth S. Goldstein, including song lyrics and bibliography, (16 p. : ill.) inserted in container.

Yreka Miner, (sculpture)

Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian American Art Museums
Save Outdoor Sculpture, California survey, 1994.

Figures of a prospector and his mule. The miner is squatting, with his proper right knee up and proper left knee down, resting on a rock. He holds a prospector's pan in his hands. He is bearded, wears a hat, and has a holstered revolver on his proper right hip. The mule stands behind and to the miner's proper left. A shovel, various utensils and personal effects are packed on the mule's back.

Stories from the Gold Rush

National Postal Museum
Online exhibit presenting the Gold Rush through twelve different stories accompanied by photographs and other primary sources. Tells of the disappointments the 'stampeders' felt when they realized the myth of gold was greater than the reality, the difficulties of getting the mail to remote parts of Alaska, specific disasters, women of the Gold Rush, and more.

Van Valen's Gold Rush Journey

National Museum of American History
Teacher's guide, student worksheets, and interactive website. Investigate the authentic journal of Alex Van Valen, a man who set sail in 1849 to stake his claim in the California gold fields, to discover what life was like during the gold rush. Includes student questions to help guide research, rich primary sources, images of artifacts and background information. The student materials can be completed on paper or using the interactive PDF format that allows students to create beautiful publications from their research. Targets grades 6-12.

Winning of the West, (sculpture)

Art Inventories Catalog, Smithsonian American Art Museums
Save Outdoor Sculpture, California, San Francisco survey, 1993.

328 ornamental street lamps, with bas-reliefs on bases featuring early pioneer scenes on the theme of "winning the West." The friezes consist of two identical halves which encircle the lamp standard bases and each half is divided into five sections. Scenes depicted include: a male figure and a dog standing next to two oxen pulling a covered wagon; a section depicting a seated puma and bear; a section depicting five horned rams; and another section depicting a prospector walking alongside his mule, which is heavily loaded with a large pack carrying supplies, including a pick-axe. Behind him, mounted on a horse, is a Native American wearing a feathered headdress. Some of the lamp standards are painted blue, some green, and some are gilded.

Charlie Chaplin's Gold Rush

SmithsonianMag RSS

The Gold Rush was the most lavish comedy produced in the silent film era. And it was arguably the most ambitious. Restaging iconic stereoscope pictures of prospectors ascending Yukon’s steep Chilkoot Pass, its director, writer, and star Charlie Chaplin had 600 men sent by train to the Sierra Nevada to climb a snowy mountain peak. A miniature mountain range was constructed in Hollywood. 

But the film’s verisimilitude only went so far: The real gold seekers who embarked on the Klondike odyssey between 1897 and 1898 suffered hardships, from brutal cold and famine to grueling footslogs. Nonetheless, when rumors of riches in Nome surfaced, many undertook the 774-mile journey.

Chaplin plays The Lone Prospector. Wandering through the wilderness of Alaska, he shacks up with a greedy criminal and a lucky prospector to escape an Arctic blizzard. Bears, avalanches, and starvation are never far away. But true to Hollywood happy endings, Chaplin’s tramp gets the gold and the golden girl. The film premiered in 1925 at the Egyptian Theatre, owned by Sidney Grauman, who had himself trekked north in search of gold, only to come up empty.

1-24 of 225 Resources