Study Guide

California Gold Rush People

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  • Samuel Brannan

    Samuel Brannan (1819-1889) was a Mormon elder who came to San Francisco in 1846 in hopes of building a new Mormon settlement there. In 1848, Brannan became the most enthusiastic and successful promoter of "gold fever," making a fortune by selling supplies to miners.

    Brannan became California's first millionaire and was excommunicated from the Mormon Church after he refused to share his new fortune with the Latter-Day Saints.

    That'll do it. 

  • Leland Stanford

    Leland Stanford (1824-1893) was an entrepreneur, politician, and with his wife Jane, the founder of Stanford University.


    After moving to California in 1852, Stanford opened a general store to supply miners in the Gold Rush, making a small fortune. In the 1860s, he parlayed his general store earnings into a stake in the Central Pacific Railroad, joining fellow Gold Rush merchants Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, and Charles Crocker to form the "Big Four" C.P.R.R. cofounders. 

    After serving as President of the railroad, Stanford was elected to the governorship of California and to the United States Senate. In 1891, he and wife Jane founded Stanford University in memory of their deceased son, Leland Stanford, Jr.

  • Levi Strauss

    Levi Strauss (1829-1902) was a Bavarian immigrant who, during the California Gold Rush, went into business as a dry goods wholesaler on San Francisco's Market Street.

    In 1853, Strauss began making durable trousers for miners from heavy brown cloth. His firm later switched materials and created the first denim blue jeans in 1873, catering to working men who needed tough garments that would withstand hard manual labor. The company's slogan in 1900 was "For Men Who Toil." 

    Levi Strauss & Co. has since become the world's largest pants manufacturer and largely caters to women who...don't toil.

    All Levi's 501 jeans feature copper rivets on pocket corners. Jacob Davis, a Nevada tailor, devised this innovation around 1872, when a customer complained that her husband was wearing through his pants too quickly. Davis secured the pockets with copper rivets, a design which tailors soon emulated.

    He couldn't afford the paperwork to patent his idea, however, and the demand for riveted pockets was already outpacing his capabilities. Davis joined up with his fabric supplier, Levi Strauss, and the two jointly applied for a patent. Davis soon moved to San Francisco to oversee manufacturing of the pants, which they called Copper Riveted Waist Overalls. Today, company spokesmen claim that the denim overalls "were so popular that miners and prospectors would say, 'Have you heard about these pants coming from Levi's?' Over time, the name just stuck."

  • John Sutter

    John Sutter (1803-1880) was an early California settler who obtained a Mexican land grant for a huge ranch near modern-day Sacramento in 1841. The Gold Rush began in 1848 with the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, on Sutter's land in the Sierra foothills.

    Surprisingly, Sutter's reaction to the discovery of gold on his land was one of disappointment. His dream was to build a successful agrarian community, not to become a wealthy mine-owner. The discovery of gold, and the frenzied population growth that followed it, made Sutter's dream impossible.

  • Mark Twain

    Mark Twain (1835-1910) was the pen name for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, an American writer, humorist, and political critic who is best known today for his novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Many consider him to be the greatest writer in American history.

    Twain missed the height of the California Gold Rush, but traveled west in 1863 and immersed himself in Gold Rush culture. Strong Gold Rush influences can be found in many of his works.

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