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Growth and Development of San Francisco and Los Angeles after the Gold Rush Term Paper

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Updated: Feb 17th, 2019


It is noticeable that California can be considered a cradle of feminism as well as working unions. The Stanford University was one of those to accept women, whereas the tendency of unionization made San Francisco a center of the ‘closed shop’ labor and the territory of Los Angeles was free of unions and developed a reputation of an ‘independent labor’ region. The years of prosperity were followed by the great Depression.

Nevertheless, the most progressive state had marked its history with numerous significant personalities who contributed greatly to the overall impression of the state, particularly San Francisco and Los Angeles. The period of Gold Rush started the exceeding migration; people from all over the world were attracted with a perspective to become rich.

Though some difficulties such as lack of water reserves and the problems rising while the building of the railroad could prevent people from coming to this region, population of California grew steadily and made the state prosperous due to the efforts of its multinational community. Two cities should be compared to get the full picture of the events that influenced the growth and development of California. San Francisco and Los Angeles are the largest cities of California.

Though their geo-climatic conditions and commercial concerns differed in terms of water supplies, earthquakes, and labor management, the efforts of people made these cities prosperous and helped to overcome the period of Great Depression as well as all subsequent difficulties of the war and post-war times. Besides, many common features can be found regarding the history of development of these two cities in terms of the labor market involving migrants from other countries and the lack of water in the very beginning.

Comparative Analysis

Labor management and unionization

Labor Management in California

The labor market of California has developed greatly due to the ‘gold rush’ tendency and hence attracted thousands of people searching for better job positions and higher salaries. Labor migration to California was in response to the discovery of the precious gold which generated more job opportunities in the mining industry (Bean and Rawls 122 ch10).

In this respect, the development and growth of cities in this region can be clearly explained regarding the factors that made people migrate. Though some expectations were not met and turned out to be even worth than the previous living and working conditions, the population of the state grew steadily demonstrating a high level of integrity in striving for a common goal. Moreover, the salary level and the number of workers did not prove the expected desire of migrants.

The history of California is hard to imagine without the migrants that came in search of treasures. As noted by Bean and Rawls, “the traditional view of this remarkable migration describes it as the most fortunate as well as the most significant factor in the whole of California’s history” (122 ch10). The economy of California was characterized by an initial wage increase which then progressively declined.

Migrant workers were employed as teamsters, artisans, and clerks. This category of laborers consisted of representatives of professions that did not require high salaries and were poorly paid respectively. California wage levels were therefore mostly defined due to migrants attracted from neighboring regions and other continents in search of better working conditions. They were ready to work and gain money in accordance with the conditions and demands.

Traditionally, agriculture was the mainstay of the California’s economy where extensive ranching and wheat farming stemmed from Spanish missionary activities. Farming was not as successful as ranching that brought great profits due to cattle production.

The shift in careers occurred after the gold discoveries and made most carpenters, farmers, and bakers as well as representatives of other occupations abandon their businesses. Industrial revolution in California was based on the prosperity of the agrarian sector developed in this region before excessive migration. Transportation system began steady growth in the form of railroad building. However, the expected progress in railroad area was reached after several decades of depression.

Rapid economic growth in San Francisco was based on its direct access to Pacific port facilities and the work of numerous mines. The export sector also expanded resulting in increased foreign revenue.

Food, which was traditionally imported into San Francisco from neighboring islands, was locally produced courtesy of expanded incentive-driven agricultural and manufacturing industries. Women were engaged into labor in California, though they were not treated as workers equal to men in the duties they performed and the salaries they gained.

Unions and ‘Free Labor’

Competing racial interests between foreign workers and native employees necessitated the need for labor unions which represented workers’ needs and concerns to the government (Bean& Rawls 37).

Issues negotiated by labor unions concerned payment system, working hours, nature of working environment and compensation in view of health risks. The way the employees were treated by their employers was due to the origin of workers. In this respect, the native workers were treated better and paid higher than those migrants that came from all over the world.

Regarding the equal working conditions and not equal salaries, the necessity for a labor union rose. However, this tendency was treated differently in various areas of California. Thus, San Francisco became greatly unionized and all workers had to become members of labor unions in order to get a job.

This flow is known as a ‘closed shop’ regarding the membership as the primary condition for being accepted. On the contrary, Los Angeles established an ‘open shop’ policy which was aimed at developing leadership competencies as a way to prosperity. This movement grew due to the efforts made by Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of ‘Los Angeles Times’, who promoted ‘industrial freedom’ and a labor zone free from labor unions (Bean and Rawls 290 ch24).

Geo-climatic conditions

The geo-climatic conditions of California seemed to be appropriate for the life of new-comers, though the climate of their native regions differed greatly from the one typical of pre-coast areas. As suggested in the study by Bean and Rawls, the territory was highly valued in terms of climate due to great harvests:

For the Indians of California, before the coming of the white man ans the introduction of irrigation, the dry summers made the agriculture impossible. But in the American period, when irrigation was developed on a vast scale, uniqueness of the climate gave California a virtual monopoly on the production of many highly valuable agricultural crops… (2 ch1).

Regarding this, the area seemed to be potentially attractive for workers from other states and countries. However, the cities grew fast and the water supply problem became the burning issue of the early twentieth century for inhabitants of California.

Hetch Hetchy

Different cities had to take appropriate measures to solve the water supply problem, hence making the flows of rivers run the other way. San Francisco was one of two largest cities of California and had to provide its citizens with potable water as well as service water. For this purpose, the Tuolumne River was used as a source of water to fill in a special reservoir (also referred to as Hetch Hetchy).

Though the Hetch Hetchy was approached as a way to politicize the situation in the valley, the citizens of the region desperately needed water. The water was required for everyday life of ordinary people, for cooking, for washing; farmers were influenced by the water shortage as well as all other people and even more because their crops had to be watered. The aqueduct was built in nine years to carry the water from a man-made reservoir to the city.

Los Angeles Aqueduct

As well as San Francisco, the territory of Los Angeles grew steadily in terms of population and people’s demands for water grew rapidly. Some stable source of water was searched and a decision was made to build an aqueduct to provide people with water supplies. As reported in Bean and Rawls, “at the end of still another summer of frightening water shortage, the citizens of Los Angeles were in no mood to vote against a plan that promised them an adequate water supply” (351 ch28).

The Owens River that carried the melting water from the mountains to the Owens Valley was approached as the main source to solve the problem of Los Angeles water supplies. The construction of the aqueduct was finished in five years. Besides, the unemployment rate decreased during the period of aqueduct construction as many people were involved into this project that was aimed to provide an appropriate and regular water supply for the growing needs of the city.

Emerging water crisis in the American West

The problem of water supply is one of the burning issues of the remote areas all over the world. The territory of California has a dry climate and people that inhabited the region in the early twentieth century experienced water shortage due to the inappropriateness and insufficiency of water supply for constant needs of population.

The rapid urban population growth and the period of Great Depression as well as persistent droughts contributed greatly to the water shortage problem. North and south of California were approached in the process of building the canals and dams to provide people with sufficient water supplies.

Some environmentalists voted against ruining the natural resources of water and building of the artificial aqueducts, though their attempts to stop the urbanization and the development of city infrastructures were unsuccessful. Both cities under consideration are reported to have had great problems related to water supplies. Moreover, the Los Angeles administration as well as the San Francisco one had found a decision to provide people with sufficient amounts of water.

Commercial concerns

The owners of shops and little stores became rich due to migration. In other words, people came to California in order to gain money and stayed here, whereas the merchants were hence enabled to sell their goods regardless of the population of this region.

Retail, shipping, entertainment, lodging and transportation sectors provided investors with lucrative opportunities for profit. Businesswomen who engaged in sewing, laundry and food trade also made large profits. Brothels, saloons, and gaming houses brought huge profits in the service sector to all who worked there.

Riding the Rails

The process of growth and development of California was marked with numerous scandals and demonstrations. San Francisco officials had an experience of solving various problems with the help of one person; a lawyer Ruef was the one to be imprisoned for his crime, whereas other people who were claimed to be also involved in this crime were not punished.

The scandal emerged due to numerous cases solved by means of Ruef’s interventions aimed at making the members of the city council to vote in favor of a certain act. The railroad construction was one of the issues to be solved by bribing certain officials by Ruef.

The Dust Bowl

The Dust Bowl is known as a region that suffered fro dust hurricanes during 1930s when people from neighboring states came to California in search for a better life. The storms raising scopes of dust were the real problem for inhabitants of Oklahoma and Arizona; this made them take what they had and come to the new area that was claimed to be full of perspectives and prosperity.

However, the residents of California in all cities treated the new-comers with hostility. This natural phenomenon coincided with the period of the great Depression which forced people migrate from their native lands and find some appropriate area with good conditions for farming and other activities similar to those fulfilled in their native regions.

Reform impulses

Elective System and Hollywood

The presence of the Federal Army in California led to the subsequent incorporation of the state as part of the Federal government in Washington. However, California remained a free state which conducted independent elections. The 1906 elections were therefore crucial in aligning the California state with the Washington government. Various industries arose to supplement needs which accompanied excessive migration.

Business people and foreign investors played a crucial role in political reforms which took place at that time. Hollywood emerged as a cradle of entertainment industry. Actors and actresses, singers, dancers and other professionals in entertainment applied their talent and skills through theatre established at Hollywood. Movies were created featuring talented musicians and actresses/actors for profit (Bean and Rawls 391 ch31).

Roosevelt and the New Deal

The elections of 1932 made Franklin D. Roosevelt the President of the United States of America. The former President was Hoover who suffered from negative publicity and resentment since the Great Depression that took place during his presidency. The Americans therefore hoped for a better future during Roosevelt’s presidency.

The administration of the President Roosevelt shut down all commercial banks until they proved to be financially viable to operate as well as the governmentally owned ones. Moreover, the New Deal project was established to bring the farmers back and facilitate the operation of the agricultural sector.

Historically, California had appropriate conditions for the development of farming and ranching, though the Gold Rush era had shifted the priority to other industrial sectors. Economic recovery programs under the New Deal project were aimed at assisting farmers get back in business. These programs helped to reduce the rate of unemployment by hiring people to work for the various projects regardless of their primary specialization.

External-Internal Migration

The first factor that influenced both internal and external migration was the Gold rush. However, the period of gold mines exploration was not marked with excessive fortune gained by minors and hence the region of California remained inhabited with people from all over the world.

As a rule, the migration is based on certain changes that take place in the country in a certain area. The overland migration of Americans was based on the search for better living and working conditions. Merchants who migrated to San Francisco in pursuit of business prospects sold off their supplies and investments after the Gold Rush period.

People had moved from around the world to benefit from the gold either returned home or migrated to other parts of the world where their career and business expectations could be met accordingly. There are also other migrants who decided to stay as permanent citizens of San Francesco. Migration patterns are comparatively similar with Los Angeles where the service industry remained robust. Highly skilled artisans from around the world migrated to Los Angeles to work on furniture, lighting, and home furnishings.

When the periods of poverty and overall decrease in industries, coincided with lack of opportunities for growth and development, people tended to migrate. In this respect, farmers from neighboring regions known as the Dust bowl migrated to California in search for appropriate conditions for farming.

Though native Californians were rather hostile towards the new-comers, the land was sufficiently fertile and supplied with irrigation. In this respect, inhabitants of Oklahoma and Arizona were forced to migrate due to two factors: the Great Depression that made all people search for some alternative opportunities and the constant drought accompanied with duct storms.


The more people came to California, the more diversities they brought to this region and its culture as well as to the way of labor management, peculiarities of working process organization, prejudices and rules established concerning the work of women, and other aspects.

Multicultural factor is very strong regarding the history of growth and development of areas that were not populated due to the lack of conveniences first, though became overpopulated after the start of migration. Every nation has certain peculiar features that contributed greatly to the Californian business and industrial development. Besides, people that came to explore gold stayed in the region and obtained other professions as a way to gain some money to maintain themselves.

The overall growth and development of the state solved the unemployment problem in terms of workers engaged in the construction of dams while building the Hetch Hetchy for water supplies for San Francisco and the Los Angeles aqueduct as a way to provide the citizens of Los Angeles and neighboring territories with sufficient water.

The prosperity gave place to the Great Depression of 1930s when people lost their savings that were then brought back by different retirement saving programs. The Dust Bowl took place in that period as well and was marked with excessive internal migration from the states that suffered from dust hurricanes to California. The region is known as the cradle of cinema due to development of movie tendencies in Hollywood that attracted many talented actors and performers in terms of perspectives for growth.

Works Cited

Bean, Walton, and James J. Rawls. California: an interpretive history. London: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

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