San Francisco’s Second Gold Rush

San Francisco

Rebecca Solnit compares today’s tech boom to the Gold Rush, noting how inflated prices can accompany influxes of vast, new wealth:

San Francisco exploded in the rush, growing by leaps and bounds, a freewheeling town made up almost exclusively of people from elsewhere, mostly male, often young. In 1850, California had a population of 120,000 according to one survey, 110,000 of them male. By 1852 women made up ten per cent of the population, by 1870 more than a quarter. During this era prostitution thrived, from the elegant courtesans who played a role in the city’s political and cultural life to the Chinese children who were worked to death in cribs, as the cubicles in which they laboured were called. Prices for everything skyrocketed: eggs were a dollar apiece in 1849, and a war broke out later over control of the stony Farallones islands rookery thirty miles west of San Francisco, where seabirds’ eggs were gathered to augment what the chickens could produce. A good pair of boots was a hundred dollars. Land downtown was so valuable that people bought water lots – plots of land in the bay – and filled them in.

Solnit sees the same phenomenon manifesting itself in San Francisco’s real estate market today:

There were rumours that these young people were starting bidding wars, offering a year’s rent in advance, offering far more than was being asked. These rumours were confirmed.

(Daguerrotype of “San Francisco harbor (Yerba Buena Cove), 1850 or 1851, with Yerba Buena Island in the background” from Wikimedia Commons.)