Klondike Gold Strike

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In 1896 the discovery of gold along the valleys of the Yukon and Klondike rivers launched a great stampede of prospectors north to Alaska and the Yukon territory of Canada. Although gold had been found all across Alaska since the 1870s, it was news of a huge gold strike at Bonanza Creek in August 1896 that launched the frenzy of the last great gold rush. The outside world learned of the riches of the Yukon Valley in the summer of 1897, when two ships arrived in San Francisco and Seattle loaded with about $1.1 million in Alaskan and Canadian gold. By the time winter cut communications, 2,000 prospectors had gathered in Canada at the former fishing camp of Dawson, at the head of the Yukon, with several thousand others on their way. Dawson profited from the influx of prospective miners. By the summer of 1898 it had a population of 30,000, making it the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg. A few of the immigrants settled in the area, but most fled for richer fields elsewhere in Alaska. The gold boom lasted only a few years, but the social, political, and economic impact of the gold rush continues to this day.

The Klondike strike was one of the best-publicized events of its time. Because of improved communications linking the Atlantic with the Pacific Coast, the news reached New York and Europe almost as soon as it reached the West Coast. New infrastructure unavailable in previous gold strikes, such as the transcontinental railroad completed in 1869, helped bring prospectors from all over the world. In addition to their money and their labor, these people brought their diseases, their language, and their drinking to the area. These took their toll on the native population of the Yukon. Alcoholism, smallpox and tuberculosis, and residential schools that operated only in English stripped many Native Americans of their lives and their culture.

The population of the Yukon never recovered from the boom years of the gold rush. A hundred years after the Klondike strike, the total population of Yukon territory was only 33,000, only a little more than the town of Dawson in the boom years at the end of the nineteenth century. Gold production began again in the Yukon in 1996. But the production was expected to be no more than 125,000 ounces per year, far short of the one million ounces produced in 1900.

There are some direct links between Klondike gold and modern American business. John W. Nordstrom, a Swedish immigrant, used his gold stake to found the shoe store that still bears his name. The economic impact of the Klondike strike was usually less direct. Of the 100,000 hopeful prospectors who left for the Yukon in 18961897, only about 30,000 were able to complete the journey. Many of them passed through Pacific ports such as Seattle on their way home from the gold fields. These towns absorbed many of those miners, with or without their stake. According to The Economist magazine, the willingness to take a riskto persist in a difficult situation and, if the desired result does not materialize, to move on to another projecthas become a characteristic of modern firms whose origins lie in the Pacific northwest. Businesses like Microsoft, Boeing, and Starbucks created corporate cultures that operate the same way that the successful Klondike miners did.

See also: Alaska, Gold Rush of 1849


Bergman, Brian. "Golden Days on the Last Frontier: A Century After the Great Ruch, the Yukon Is Still a Land of Dreams." Maclean's, August 19, 1996.

Craig, Simon. "The Golden Dream." Geographical Magazine, October 1997.

"The End of the Trail." History Today, August 1997.

"The Heirs of the Klondike." Economist, February 15, 1997.

Sherwood, Morgan B. Exploration of Alaska, 1865 1900. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1965.

Wharton, David. The Alaska Gold Rush. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1972.

gold! we leapt from our benches. gold! we sprang from our stools. gold! we wheeled in the furrows, fired with the faith of fools.

robert service, a poet who lived in the yukon