On January 24, 1848, James Marshall found gold near the fork of the American and Sacramento Rivers, and unleashed a massive migration from around the world to what had been a forgotten backwater. With head-spinning speed, these gold-seekers created one of the most extraordinary societies in history -- hard-driving, overwhelmingly male, often brutal.
The Gold Rush was a remarkably international event; in short order, gold-seekers from Oregon and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Mexico, Chile, England, France, Australia, Ireland, and China were soon knee-deep in water in the diggings. Each found themselves playing the Great California Lottery, in which luck not hard work or honesty, seemed the key to success.
Told though the stories of a small group of diverse characters -- Chinese and Chilean, Northerner and Southerner, black and white -- this two-hour AMERICAN EXPERIENCE tracks the evolution of the Gold Rush from the easy riches of the first few months to the fierce competition for a few good claims. It shows that as the diggings became oppressively crowded, Americans drove foreigners from the mines. And it explores how in the end, the big money was made, not by men with shovels, but by large investments in expensive hydraulic equipment.
Nonetheless, in the hurly burly of the intervening years, the Gold Rush turned California into a place synonymous with risk, riches, and reinvention, a place where the impossible seemed likely.
A synopsis of the film, plus film credits.
The program transcript.
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Program interviewees and consultants.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers by The Caption Center at WGBH.
A special narration track is added to the series by Descriptive Video Service® (DVS®), a service of WGBH to provide access to people who are blind or visually impaired. The DVS narration is available on the SAP channel of stereo TVs and VCRs.
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