Originally known as Yerba Buena, San Francisco was transformed nearly overnight when James Marshall's discovery of gold in the South Fork of the American River at Sutter's mill on January 24, 1848, started the great rush of fortune seekers to California. Gold became the irresistible magnet and nothing could check the insistent rush. Laborers, clerks, waiters, servants, all disappeared as if by magic, and melted into the stream of feverish folk headed for the slopes of the Sierra.
In 1849, 40,000 immigrants arrived at the rate of one thousand per week by sea alone in San Francisco and three-quarters of them headed for the mines. Many came from South America, the islands of the Pacific and Australia and in droves from the Eastern States by way of Cape Horn.
There was no such place as a home and very few habitable houses. Frame buildings for business and dwelling were the best. Shacks and tents were common. Only the great gambling houses, hotels, restaurants and a few public buildings were built with any size and comfort. The streets were uneven and the mud was knee-deep in the streets, except the few planked ones, when it rained. People used lanterns at night because there were no streetlights. In the gambling dens bets were made as high as $20,000 on the turn of a card, though the ordinary stakes were 50 cents to $5. A half dollar was the smallest coin in circulation, and a penny, dime or fivecent piece was a curiosity. For any small service nothing lower than 50 cents was given. Entrance to the circus was $3. A hearty meal at a restaurant cost from $2 to $5. Coarse boots cost $30 to $40 per pair; superior boots $100. Laborers received $1 per hour, and skilled mechanics from $12 to $20 per day. The carpenters struck because they got only $12 per day, and demanded $16.