Join Active Minds as we trace the history of gold. We will take you on a journey from ancient civilizations to the 49'er strike at Sutter's Mill. We'll touch on Colorado's own gold rush as well as the role gold has played in the world, from plunderers throughout history to the "gold standard" for money.

Key Lecture Points

  • Gold has had a major impact in the development of the United States. Because of the quest to discover and mine this valuable resource, hundreds of thousands of people entered the forbidding world of the unsettled expanses of our young country, settling new areas in Georgia, North Carolina, California, Colorado, the Dakotas and Alaska.
  • In the modern world, gold has many important uses. Gold has remarkable physical properties making it highly conductive, reflective, malleable, and flexible. While its primary use over the centuries has remained adornment as jewelry, gold’s uses in the modern world have increased significantly. It is used in technology in everything from telephones and computers to satellites and television imagery. It is even used as a protective shield in astronaut’s visors!
  • Gold continues to remain among the rarest and most valuable metals on the planet. Currently, gold is trading for about $975.00 an ounce. Until relatively recent history (the Great Depression/1933), gold was used as the basis for the world’s economies, guaranteeing the value of currency. This economic practice is known as the gold standard.
  • Gold is found throughout the world. Antarctica is the only continent where gold has not been found. While it is common in its distribution, gold is extremely rare. Only five out of a billion atoms of rock in the Earth’s crust are gold. Sixty tractor trailers could hold all of the gold ever mined in human history. 90% of all of the gold in use today has been mined since 1848.
  • The top three gold producing countries in the world are South Africa, the United States and Australia in that order.
  • According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Nevada is now the largest U.S. gold-producing state. Other top U.S. gold producing states are Alaska, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
  • Gold was produced as early as 4000 B.C.E. in what is today Eastern Europe. Many artifacts representing gold production in the Middle East and Egypt between 3000 – 1500 B.C.E. have been located.
  • Gold was mined by indigenous people in what is now North America. Spanish explorers saw the Native Americans in what is now Georgia and Carolina mining gold in the early 1500s. This greatly increased the interest of Europeans to colonize.
  • The major discoveries of gold in the United States were: California: 1848; Colorado: 1858; Dakotas: 1874; Alaska/Klondike: 1896

Exploration Questions

  • Gold is called the universal currency of wealth and power. Why is it universal? Why and how does it transcend economic and social borders as well as physical borders?
  • Of all of the gold rushes in North America (Carolinas/Georgia, California, Colorado, Dakotas, Klondike/Alaska), which do you feel was the most important and had the greatest affect on our developing nation? Why?
  • Gold has contributed to world economics for centuries. Besides the direct impact of the value of gold itself, what other activities associated with the pursuit and mining of gold have had an impact on economics and society?
  • Gold has often been used by nations as a “standard” on which to base the value of currency. Should gold continue to be used as an economic standard?
  • Do you think it will one day be possible to extract the huge gold deposits in the world’s oceans? How might advanced technologies make this happen?

Reflective Questions

  • What specific object or place comes to mind when you think of gold? Why is this object or place important to you?
  • Do you own any gold jewelry, coins, or bars? What is your favorite piece and what is the story behind it?
  • Did you own any gold other than jewelry between 1933 and 1974? Where did you keep it and what was the type of gold?
  • Have you ever panned for gold or visited a gold mine? What was your experience like? Do you think you could have lived as a gold miner?
  • What is your favorite story about gold mining in the old west?

More to Explore

  • A very brief history of gold and a site showing gold coins and bars for sale Click here
  • An excellent site for world gold production by country Click here

Books For Further Reading

  • Bernstein, Peter L. The Power of Gold: The History of an Obsession. John Wiley & Sons, 2012. 448 pages. In this exciting book, the author tells the story of history's most coveted, celebrated, and inglorious asset: gold. From the ancient fascinations of Moses and Midas through the modern convulsions caused by the gold standard and its aftermath, he traces the role of gold in shaping human history in this tumultuous tale. Such is the power of gold.
    Click here to order
  • McCracken, Dave. Gold Mining in the 21st Century. Keene Industries, 2005. The complete book of modern gold mining procedures. Learn what gold is, where it comes from, where to find it, and how to pan, sluice, dredge, lode mine, clean gold, and how to sell it.
    Click here to order
  • Owens, Kenneth N. (editor). Riches for All: The California Gold Rush and the World. University of Nebraska Press, 2002. 367 pages. An event of international significance, the California gold rush created a more diverse, metropolitan society than the world had ever known. In Riches for All, leading scholars reexamine the gold rush, evaluating its trajectory and legacy within a global context of religion and race, economics, technology, law, and culture.
    Click here to order
  • Voynick, Stephen M. Colorado Gold: From the Pike's Peak Rush to the Present. Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2000. 224 pages. Learn about Colorado's gold rushes, booms and busts, with information on geology and mining technology, and Colorado legends and lore thrown in.
    Click here to order