Was The Alaskan "Gold Rush" Worth It?

I have never read any account of the gold rush (1897-1900?) that talked about how much money was invested, by the thousands of men who tried to find gold in the Alaskan wilderness.
From what I understand, you had to have a fair amount of money to make the attempt (entry via Canada, via the Ckilcoot Pass, was controlled by the RCMP). You needed a year’s worth of supplies, or else you were refused entry.
Now, these guys did find an amazing amount of gold-but maybe one in a hundred actually made serious money.
In any case, are there any estimates about how much wealth was invested in the gold rush? Was it close to the value of the gold that was found?

I don’t see a specific answer to your question, but here’s a good place to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klondike_gold_rush

In general, no. First, you need to remember the many poorly equipped people who died on the way, the men without experience in the west who didn’t survive long (despite surplies), the men who caught pneumonia from standing in ice-cold streams looking for gold.

And in a rush, you get lot of unqualified people who believe “the stuff’s lying around” vs a few people who know what they’re doing and are lucky enough to find something. Then they have to survive all those rough guys in the next tent who are ready to make their work easier with a knife in the night. And then you have to get back to civilisation without meeting any bandits.

People who made a modest income would be those running infrastructure - saloons, shops. Still with the risk of a short life.

And also the con men - those who sold overpriced equipment and fake claims to the newly arriving greenhorns, who swindeld at cards and so on.

At least in fiction, the general outcome is: people with gold get killed for it or blow it all in one evening on women, whiskey and cards.

I don’t have figures to prove that, and certainly fiction has either moral issues or alters to make it more dramatically. Nevertheless, it sound plausible that greenhorns attract con men, that wealth and no law attracts bandits, and that people who are ready to uproot their whole life and trek across thousands of miles based on wild rumor are not the sensible, self-restrained and level-headed types able to hold onto findings, but rather the risk-everything-on-one-card types.

If I learned anything from Deadwood, it’s that the best way to make a fortune from a gold rush isn’t to go looking for gold - it’s selling things to the people who are looking for gold.

The Wiki article says the total amount of gold production from the Klondike was around 570,000 kg, which at today’s prices is worth around $32 billion.

It also says that some 100,000 people attempted to reach the gold areas, of which around 30-40,000 actually did. So that’s $320,000 per attempt, and around $800,000 - $1 million per person who got there.

Thanks for the replies-it is interesting that just about all of the wealth extracted from the Yukon, left with the prospectors.
Take the towns of Dawson, White Horse, etc.-they all have smaller populations today than 100 years ago.
I recall seeing a National Geographic article about the Yukon (written in the 1950’s)-there were still a few old guys from the gold rush days-prospecting, trying to make it big.
I suspect that there is probably plenty of gold up there-but getting it is as difficult today as 100 years ago-and nobody is willing to live in such isolation today.

It’s going to be a lot more difficult today than in the past. Placer gold - i.e. alluvial (stream deposited) gold - tends to be quite thoroughly extracted once it’s found.

Rich deposits (and some in the Yukon were extremely rich) can initially be worked by hand, but then comes sluicing and hydraulic mining. The rush ends and the miners leave when all the equipment (paid for by the earlier rich deposits) is no longer able to extract enough gold to make men want to stay. At the end of a “rush” you can go in, buy now-idle equipment for next to nothing, and have a go yourself - but you probably won’t find enough to make it worthwhile, because if that were possible the others would still be there.

The next stage is hard-rock mining: finding rock that will yield ore that can be ground and processed. This is inherently capital-intensive - but that placer gold came from somewhere, and there’s typically a lot more still embedded in rock. This can go on for years to decades, but eventually the cost of mining and processing the ore rises to match the value of what can be extracted from it. A spike in the price of gold can, of course, make a formerly unprofitable mine worthwhile again.

In short, you can expect that there is still gold there, but it’s much harder to get. It’s also fair to say that isolation will make it more costly to mine, but if it can still be profitably extracted it will continue to be, even from extremely remote areas. (Note, for example, how oil is now routinely obtained from wells bored into the ocean floor at impressive depths).

Interesting. I just happened to be watching the PUblic TV show about the American guy who lived alone (in the Alaskan wilderness) for many years (in the 1960’s). He found a bit of gold in a stream near his cabin-odds are, the area was never prospected.
But as you say, panning is back-breaking work, and you really only have a few months warm enough to do it.
I cannot imagine what hardships those old timers endured-the poet Robert W. Service talked about it in his classic poem “The Spell of the YUkon”.
Anyway, I hope to visit the area, some day.

I know a guy in California who has a claim he is working, with a partner. While not a lot, he gets enough gold to split with his partner, and live off of. But it is backbreaking work.

I live in a city that was pretty much founded on doing that for the California gold rush. Stockton was as far east as you could get by boat towards to Sierra Nevada. It and Sacramento (whose harbor wasn’t as far east, but was further north, on a line with Sutter’s mill) benefitted greatly from that.

Was the Alaska rush worth it? Well, it gave us Jack London. What would he have done without the Yukon to chew on?

Well that and the fact the phrase “cock sucker” mean the same thing in English and Chinese :slight_smile: