This Week In History: Jan. 24-30 

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A replica of Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. During construction of the mill, gold was discovered, which triggered a gold rush. Photo courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica

They say money makes the world go round, and while it may not be able to buy happiness, history certainly shows what a person is willing to do to make a buck. This week in history, we’re getting down to business discussing major moments in the economic history of the United States and discovering the tremendous impact these events have had on the world we live in. So let’s dive in! 

On Jan. 24, 1848, 174 years ago, gold was discovered at Sutter’s Creek in California, igniting the California Gold Rush. 

James Marshall, a hired millwright, found gold on John Sutter’s ranch when redirecting a river to power Sutter’s sawmill. The slight glint of light coming from the stream attracted unwanted attention, despite Sutter’s attempts at keeping the discovery a little secret. 

A year later, in 1849, word of gold had made it all the way back to the East Coast, sending scores of settlers, particularly men, scampering across the continent to share a piece of the newfound fortune. Once they arrived, however, miners were welcomed into lawless boom towns where bandits, gunslingers and exploitive businessmen loomed about. While approximately 2 billion dollars’ worth of gold was found in the California mining fields, many migrants with gold fever came out empty-handed and instead settled into the modern-day cities of San Francisco and Sacramento. These cities still pay tribute to these 300,000 people, most notably in San Francisco’s NFL team: the 49er’s. 

Also on Jan. 24, in 1935, 87 years ago, the first can of beer was sold in Richmond, Virginia. 

Long before “cracking open a cold one” became a national pastime, American brewers were limited in ways to distribute their product to the masses. In the early 20th century, as railroads stretched across the nation, cargo could easily be transported from one city to the next, yet glass bottles could break in transit. 

Beer is an American favorite but it wasn’t until Jan. 24, 1935, that the first can of beer was sold in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Bekka Mongeau from Pexels

The American Can Company worked to design a can for beer as early as 1909. Prohibition, however, paused any progress on the project, making the 1930s the first decade of the beer can. While Americans were struggling through the Great Depression, the demand for alcohol was still high, and American Can wanted to tap into the market. They partnered with the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company to deliver 2,000 cans of Krueger’s Finest Beer and Krueger’s Cream Ale to the thirsty people of Richmond.  

The new packaging was an instant success, and soon after, the major beer companies of America joined in. The beer can took off in the 1940s as small breweries expanded their operations to ship their products to the troops fighting overseas in World War II. Breweries became corporations, and thus began the dominating companies of the modern-day beer market. Today, the beer industry is worth over $20 billion, and cans make up half of these profits. 

On Jan. 24, 2006, 16 years ago, the Walt Disney Company announced its purchase of Pixar for a whopping $7.4 billion. 

More than a century and a half after gold was found in the San Francisco Bay, California was once again a tremendous draw for Americans looking to get rich quickly. While gold no longer drew settlers westward, fame and fortune in the entertainment industry or tech field of Silicon Valley beckoned to migrants, resulting in one of the biggest merges in entertainment history.  

The marriage between Disney and Pixar came after Steve Jobs (yes, the guy from Apple) sold his animation company to the behemoth of family entertainment in Hollywood. The projects to come out of this merge have become some of the most beloved animated movies of all time, including “Cars,” “Up,” “Coco” and “Soul.” 

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