Gold rush – definition and meaning

A gold rush is a situation in which many people move to one area to try to find gold and make a fortune. They move to one place because they have heard that there is gold there. When some people discover gold in a specific area, there is a rush of people who come to that area. They come in a rush because they want to get rich. Hence the name, gold rush, i.e., a rush of people who want to find gold and get rich.

During a gold rush, rich speculators and workers migrate to the area where a gold find occurred. They work aggressively trying to gather as much gold as they can because they are in pursuit of riches.

We sometimes use the term ‘gold rush’ when referring to any headlong pursuit of sudden wealth in a new field. In other words, we sometimes use the term when many people try to get rich doing the same thing.

According to Merriam-Webster, a gold rush is:

“A rush to newly discovered goldfields in pursuit of riches. The headlong pursuit of sudden wealth in a new or lucrative field.”

Gold rush – major ones

The most famous gold rushes occurred in the nineteenth century in the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Brazil. There were also some major ones in Australia and New Zealand.

However, dozens of minor gold rushes took place in many other parts of the world.

The resulting wealth spread widely because of low migration costs and low barriers to entry. Barriers to entry are hurdles or obstacles that we must overcome when trying to break into a new business.

For example, the high costs of equipment are barriers to entry in oil exploration. If you want to open a taxi service, however, the high barrier is the expensive license.

In gold rushes, the barriers to entry are low. You do not need expensive equipment or a lot of money to begin gold prospecting.

Gold Rush - definition and illustration
If you are prospecting and discover gold, do not tell anybody. If you do, you could trigger a gold rush.

Gold rushes in North America

The first major US gold rush occurred in 1799 in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. It happened at today’s Reed’s Gold Mine.

The Georgia Gold Rush of 1829 in the southern Appalachians was also a major one.

Arguably America’s most famous was the California Gold Rush, which lasted eight years; from 1848 to 1855. In fact, it led directly to the settlement of Americans in California. It also led to the rapid entry of California into the union in 1850.

The 1849 rush in California triggered international interest in gold prospecting. Subsequently, areas in Scotland, Wales, South Africa, and Australia had large movements of people seeking their fortune.

Successive gold rushes followed in North America. They occurred in Fraser Canyon, British Columbia, Nevada, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, Montana, Idaho, and Eastern Oregon.

There were also gold rushes in the western New Mexico Territory, the lower Colorado River, and Alaska.

The Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899) in Canada’s Yukon Territory was immortalized in Charlie Chaplin’s movie The Gold Rush. Author Jack London also wrote about it in his novels.

Gold rushes in Australia

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Australia had many gold rushes. The one in New South Wales was perhaps the most famous. The gold rushes in Victoria and Western Australia also attracted thousands of prospectors.

The Australian government spent heavily on infrastructure to support the new arrivals of immigrants. Many of the immigrants were people who came looking for gold and then stayed.

Some prospectors got rich. However, many of the less fortunate ones decided to stay in the colony and took up farming.

Gold rushes in New Zealand

In 1861, New Zealand’s Central Otago Gold Rush attracted prospectors from California. It also attracted Australian prospectors.

In 1864, many prospectors moved on to the West Coast Gold Rush.

Gold rushes in South Africa

It is thanks to the Witwatersrand Gold Rush in the Transvaal that Johannesburg exists.

In 1896, South Africa’s gold production represented 23% of the global total. This was an incredible feat, given that in 1895 it represented 0%.

Gold rushes in South America

From 1883 to 1906, many Europeans, Argentines, and Chileans went to Tierra del Fuego to seek their fortunes.

The rush to the archipelago followed the discovery of gold in 1884 during the rescue of the Arctique, a French Steamship.

Video – The California Gold Rush

This Simple History video explains what happened in California in 1849. People came from across the continent to California looking for gold. The precious metal was first discovered in a river. When word got out, tens of thousands of people poured into the state from outside.

Not only did some of the prospectors get rich but also traders who sold them supplies. In fact, many traders made more money than most of the prospectors.