The Gold Rush of the 1840s ended the era of the solitary miner sitting by a stream with pan in hand. Throngs traveled to California hoping to find their fortunes. Tools were soon developed to easily extract gold from rocks and riverbeds. Many of these tools have been found in the original mines above and below ground.
Stamps were used in California gold mines around 1850. First developed in England and used by Cornish miners, stamps were heavy iron machines used to pound rocks containing gold quartz into a fine dust so the gold ore could be extracted. Small stamps were commonly powered by water wheels while larger ones ran by steam engines.
A rocker, also known as a cradle, separated gold from dirt. This tool consisted of a box for shaking dirt and water back and forth so miners could find gold fragments. A miner would load the rocker with water and soil. Another would rock the box, bucket load after bucket load, to search for signs of precious metal. About 200 buckets of dirt could be "rocked" per day.
Pickaxes were known as the gold standard for early mining in the 1800s. The pickaxe was manually wielded, blow after blow, to chip away at rocks and uncover any gold that might be attached to them.
Miners drilled by hand or used compressed air drills. They drilled in sunken shafts to extract gold from the quartz rock, which was known as quartz or hard rock mining.
Panning for gold was also known as "placer mining." Early miners sat by riverbeds, scooping wet soil into shallow metal pans. They swirled the pans, washing away the dirt to hopefully discover particles of gold. Though more complex equipment was eventually invented, pans were still a useful tool to distinguish gold from dirt.
Hydraulic Mining Machines
Riverbeds in remote mountains contained gold-bearing gravel. Hydraulic mining was used to extract this gold from water and gravel. Gigantic floating dredges scooped up the river gravel while hydraulic cannons blasted hillsides and washed them into the streams and rivers. The first hydraulic cannon was invented by Edward Mattison in 1853. Dredges and hydraulic cannons were controversial for their impact on the ecosystems. Legal battles between miners and farmers resulted in environmental controls.
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