Mining the Periphery – Gold Rush’s 1st Millionaire Found No Gold

Sam BrannanSometimes the path is obvious… it’s an easy choice. After all, everyone’s heading that way. Well, sometimes, what you seek lies not in the obvious choice. Sometimes, it’s in the periphery. Let’s take a trip back to the mid 1800’s to meet California’s first millionaire.

During the Gold Rush of 1849, Sam Brannan earned his fortune, but not by panning for it in the American River…A Mormon seeking religious freedom, Brannan sailed west to California in 1846 with over 200 people as well as equipment for setting up a printing press and flour mill. A natural businessman, he established not only these, but also a hotel and several general stores within a few years time. However, it is obvious this list of accomplishments did not earn him fortune or fame.

Sam Brannan's store at Sutters FortBrannan’s greatest venture began within the humble walls of his Sutter’s Fort general store. When he noticed a few settlers using gold to pay for purchases, he quickly but subtly bought up all the mining supplies he could find. Since his was the only store in the area, he had an immediate monopoly on pans, shovels, and picks at the start of the California Gold Rush. In short, he made himself indispensable to those around him. As advertisement for his products, he ran through the streets holding up gold dust and yelling, “Gold! Gold on the American River!” In the first nine months he pocketed $36,000, more than most prospectors ever struck in gold, and by 1849 he was said to have been earning over $150,000 a month. He went on to buy large tracts of land and businesses, owning a fifth of San Francisco by 1856, and much of Sacramento.

The prospectors of his day, like the ‘lottery players’ of the future, relied on chance to favor them. Sam Brannan relied on his ability to ‘think of pans’, the overlooked but vital things that are often brimming with potential. He understood the significance of small events, anticipated where they would lead, and acted quickly in response. By focusing on what others would need, Brannan was the first to strike the true California gold.

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