Critical Analysis of California; the growth and development of Los Angeles (1870s – 1940)

Following the overthrow of the Mexican army in addition to the fall of Mexico City, in September 1847, the Mexican régime surrendered what is now known as California. After the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States received an additional 525,000 square miles of additional territory at the south territory. these lands included what makes up all or parts of present-day Wyoming, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, as well as Colorado . Of the four aforementioned states, California was considered a mission town with limited economic activity with a small population estimated to be about 7,300 people thus the loss of the region was not considered as a devastating loss to the Mexican empire. However, the Mexican authorities had not known that nine days before they signed the peace treaty gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, in the regions. Soon as the news of the precious metal became public, the degree of change in California was significant; for instance, San Francisco became a city of 100,000 from a small village of about 800 inhabitants. With the introduction of gold mining, the California state counties identified as gold counties each went through radical political, cultural, as well as geographical changes an aspect best exemplified by Los Angeles and San Francisco Counties.


The gold rush, First World War, as well as the industrial revolutionary events from the 1940s to mid-1990s, introduced the aspect of trade unions as well as employee clubs, an aspect that was foreign to an area thought to be disorganized and lawless to both San Francisco and Los Angele in two different ways. In Los Angles workers in the mines were provided with additional payments from increased prices of gold, while in San Francisco, the trade unions provided better trading terms aimed at enabling workers gain as much profits as mine owners.  In the early 1940s, there was an aldous debate of whether or not California should be a slave or a free state. Although a significant number of the Constitutional Convention states had migrated from the South, a majority of the delegates believed that slavery would introduce a new obstacle to admission in the Union. therefore, slavery was forbidden, meaning all men and women who worked in the gold mines were subject to fair payment. It can be argued that it was at this point the workforce market took an open shop profile.Additionally, as explained by Woodland, the influx of workers from different parts of the country into California led to the development of unions and workers clubs(52). In December 1848, then United States President James Knox Polk urged Americans from different states to explore the newfound mineral wealth in California.  In doing so, Polk was encouraging the migration of thousands of permanent American settlers to California, an aspect that resulted in the creation of a well-organized labor union.

Cultural and social activity adopted from  industrial cities like Boston and New York led to the development of cooperative societies and clubs that had not been seen in the gold country before. As explained by Jackson, by 1850, small ethnic communities had sprang up in the mining camps and the major cities, such as San Francisco. this multi-ethnic tone led to the development of workforce clubs, particularly from commercial cities such as New York and Boston as well as numerous European destinations (112). A similar trend was soon observed in the mining counties, such as Los Angeles, where workers unions fought for increased pricing of gold prices from $12.00 to $35.00 an ounce thus improving workers’ wages.The introduction of other culture it became clear that both Los Angeles and San Francisco were both influenced by labor unions and cubs.


Throughout the history between the gold rush and the First World War, the state of California underwent a significant geographic change, particularly when it came to the supply or rechanneling of waterways; however, this happened on different scales in various counties. In Los Angeles the manmade channels were used to transport and clean the golden ore from the hills to the Hub; while in San Francisco, the Bay area had an increase in port size.One of the first changes in California counties came in the form of geographical modifications or Geo-climatic changes. The discovery of thousands clamoring to the muddy shores of the shallow indentation known as Yerba Buena Cove present-day San Francisco. Yerba Buena Cove covered the foot of Telegraph Hill to the present Montgomery Street and around to the foot of Rincon Hill. As explained by Dahlberg, the newcomers, as a corporate body, were to begin grading away from the sand hills along Market Street and dumping them into the mudflats of the cove (127). The project was many years in completion. Before it was finished, about 1873, they had already begun building a sea wall several blocks east of the shoreline so that ships could unload directly upon the wharves without the aid of a lighter. The changes made at the time caused considerable consequences particularly when it came to the water supply. The construction of the San Francisco sea wall took many decades to complete. Moreover, a 60 feet wide trench was dug along the line of the proposed waterfront, in addition to tons of rock excavated from Telegraph Hill that were dumped into it from lighters and scows thus changing the flow and supply of water (Dahlberg, 225). The same geo-climatic changes were seen in Los Angeles County as mining changed the region’s landscape in profound ways, as gold seekers settled permanently in the Antelope Valley during the 1850s and 1860s.

Internal and External Migration

The lure of sudden wealth brought about rapid, uncontrolled population growth. The 1849-1885 California Gold Rush transformed the state of California demographic radically.The Los Angeles region saw an influx of Mexican and Chilean miners; while San Francisco saw an increase in non-native American workers.The annexation of California from Mexico in addition to the discovery of gold saw the arrival of adventurers as well as immigrants alike by the thousands set to fulfill with ambitions of “hitting pay dirt”. As presented by Simpson, In early 1848, California’s non-Indian inhabitants were estimated to be less than 20,000 individuals; two years later, the federal census indicated that this number had risen to about 93,000 non-Indians; however, this figure does not include the census returns from San Francisco, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties because they were lost (131). Convers to common belief, California’s Gold Rush began in 1842 at the hills southwest of the Antelope an aspect that led to an increase of immigrants in Los Angeles County. As explained by Simpson Gold rushers clustered to the canyon excavating an estimated 100,000 U.S dollars of gold from the region before the more exciting and well-known discovery at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 (144). The gold strike in the mountains of the Antelope gave the province to the town of Los Angeles a known for its booming market an ideal setting for many prospectors who decided to settle in the area after the Gold Rush. Similarly, the county of San Francisco went through a change fueled by gold seekers who presently settled on the Antelope Valley during the 1850s and 1860s. In a year the arrival of “forty-niners” increased the Bay’s population from 1,000 to 25,000, this exponential growth reached a staggering 40,000, with 4,000 immigrants arriving by ship each month (Simpson, 143). The abandoned ships cluttered the harbor serving has housed for thousands of immigrants; additionally, most of the available timber was used to build saloons, cellars, as well as makeshift shanties, crowded into the flatlands that surrounded the bay.

Reform Impulses

The earliest reform impulse in California rested on the racial conflict.In Los Angeles, the native miners were pushed of their lands while in San Francisco most foreigners were forced of the California state. Before the gold rush, local miners operated with limited to low assistance from the outside world; subsequently, the mining techniques used then required rudimentary equipment thus little investment. When the U. S acquired California Mexican and Chilean, miners were significantly successful in gold extraction; however, soon after non-local arrived the earlier settlers were forced out of their lands. As narrated by Dahlberg, this form of placer mining operation gave way to more technical ways of mining soon after the forty miners arrived at the shores of San Francisco (129). With this in mind, the need for more land by national immigrants for additional profitability led to a regional conflict that made the California region seem lawless. In 1849, the Chilean government dispatched a war vessel to look after his citizens after uprisings took place in San Francisco’s locality nicknamed Little Chile. These first signs of ethnic strife were an ominous indication of future racial problems.

Economic Growth

The gold rush and the Second World War allowed the people of California to grow economically. It is estimated that the gold rush generated an estimated .5 billion in wealth (in current dollars). additionally, the men and women of California were awarded employment opportunities as the world war machine gained prominence in Europe.  In 1940, there were than 3,000 industrial plants that had already been established at the shores of San Francisco Bay, employing approximately 90,000 workers and producing goods with an estimated value of more than 1,000,000,000 dollars. At the same time, about 71% of central California’s population of 3,000,000 individuals live within a 75- mile radius of the bay, making it a good marketing area. Now as then it is the San Francisco Bay region’s job to supply their needs and now, too, the needs of millions more beyond the horizons of a wider expanse, the whole Pacific. The economic growth in Los Angeles was however minimal particularly after the end of the gold rush.

From the formation provided the both San Francisco and Los Angeles were affected by the California gold rush, the first world war, and the industrial revolution. In terms of the workforce profiles, in Los Angles,the payment for workers in the mines increasedthanks to the augmented prices of gold. On the other hand, in San Francisco, the trade unions provided better trading terms to allow workers gain as much profits as mine owners. In terms of immigration, the Los Angeles region saw an influx of Mexican and Chilean miners; while San Francisco saw an increase in non-native American workers.moreover, when it came to the geo-climate aspect, in Los Angeles the manmade channel were used to transport and clean the golden ore from the hills to the Hub; while in San Francisco the Bay area’ port size increased. In terms of reform impulses, in Los Angeles, the native miners were pushed of their lands while in San Francisco most foreigners were forced of the California state. Finally, in terms of economic growth San Francisco saw more growth than Los Angeles particularly after the gold rush.



Works Cited

Dahlberg, Nicole. “A Californian conflict: The Sydney Ducks and the San Francisco 49ers.” Signals 127 (2019): 36.

Jackson, Joseph Henry. Anybody’s gold: The story of California’s mining towns. D. Appleton-Century Company, incorporated, 1951.

Simpson, Mark. “The Public in Pieces: Representational Crises in Gold-Rush California.” Nineteenth-Century Prose 36.2 (2009): 131.

Woodland, John. Money pits: British mining companies in the Californian and Australian gold rushes of the 1850s. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2014.