# Spreading the Word: A History of Information in the California Gold Rush

By Richard T. Stillson | Go to book overview

APPENDIX B Prices and Wages in the Gold Rush

One can imagine the kind of calculations many individuals made in early 1849, when newspapers reported that most miners could average about one ounce of gold per day but that one could not mine during the rainy season (roughly December through April). The cost of shelter and food could run as high as \$4.00 per day. Assuming the trip itself would cost around \$400.00 each way, would it be worth it if the prospective goldrusher did not get very lucky and strike it rich? Some of the men contemplating going to California would perhaps put together something like the following figures:

 Gross annual earnings as a miner: 250 mining days @ \$16per day: \$4,000 Less cost of provisions and upkeep: \$4.00per day for 350days: \$1,400 Estimated savings at end of a year: \$2,600 Cost of transportation to mine fields: \$400each way, total: \$ 800 Net savings from gold rush in one year: \$1,800

How would prospective goldrushers compare this bottom line to what a man could make in various occupations in the East? In 1848 the average wage for an unskilled laborer in the Northeast was less than \$1.00 per day and, for an artisan, less than \$1.50; average income for a white-collar worker was around \$500.00 per year.1 Robert Margo shows that, after adjusting for room and board, a farm laborer's wages were similar to those of an unskilled urban laborer. A small family farm averaged about \$200.00 per year in net income. Therefore, even if one did not strike it rich and earn the fabulous sums that some lucky miners did, one could still come back with cash equal to the fruits of many years of labor in the East.

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