Gold Rushes, mass movements of people hoping to become rich by mining gold. This precious metal was one of the first to attract the attention of primitive peoples, and because of its appeal the mining of gold since the dawn of civilization has usually been strictly supervised by governments. Notable exceptions occurred in the 19th century, when gold rushes took place on unsettled public lands in countries that left mining to private enterprise and allowed persons to move freely.

Prospectors flocked to gold fields in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The gold that could be obtained by the crude mining methods of ordinary prospectors was quickly exhausted, however. The historical significance of gold rushes is that they led to the settlement of unoccupied regions. In the United States, gold rushes were a major factor in the westward movement.

The first great gold rush was to California, where gold was discovered in 1848. Prospectors arrived from all over the world; some came by sea, others overland from the eastern United States. Large deposits of gold were found in Australia in 1851 and in New Zealand in 1861. Canada's first gold rush, along the Fraser River in British Columbia, began in 1858. In South Africa, a gold rush developed in the Transvaal region in 1886.

The gold rush of 1849The gold rush of 1849 began after James W. Marshall found gold near Sutter's Mill on the American River. News of his discovery spread rapidly.

The last important gold rush of the 19th century was the Klondike Stampede of 1896, along the Yukon River valley of Alaska and northwestern Canada. In the 20th century, gold strikes have usually been exploited by well-financed concerns using advanced technology. An exception occurred in the 1980's and 1990's when a gold rush similar to those of the 19th century took place in the Amazon Basin of Brazil.