Wages in California During the Gold Rush
NBER Historical Working Paper No. 101
The California Gold Rush was an unexpected shock of tremendous size that prompted the costly re-allocation of labor to a frontier region. Using newly-collected archival data, this paper presents estimates of nominal and real wages in Gold Rush California. Consistent with a simple dynamic model of labor market adjustment, real wages rose sharply during the early years of the Rush (1848-1852), declined abruptly following massive in-migration 1850s. However, although the Rush itself was a transitory event, it left California wages permanently higher. Estimates based on census data suggest that the supply of labor into Gold Rush California was about half as elastic as the supply of labor into Alaska during the Pipeline Era.