Daguerreotypes of the California Gold Rush

Outdoor view of a diverted river at a mining operation on the North Fork American River (c. 1852) by an unknown photographer (collection of the Canadian Photography Institute. NGC, Ottawa)

“Gold! Gold from the American River!” So cried the carpenter James W. Marshall on January 24, 1848, as the story goes, when he found flakes of the precious metal at Coloma, California, thus ushering into the region a wave of steely-eyed prospectors. As word of the California Gold Rush spread around the world, photographers, too, arrived, and themselves struck metaphorical gold. They set up studios in wagons and captured the historic frenzy around them, making the Gold Rush the first major event in the country to be documented extensively through the then-new medium.

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