Giant Gold Machines
California's easy gold was soon picked clean, and the challenge of mining took on new proportions. There was still plenty of gold in California in the 1850s, but it took the giants of the mining industry to make it pay: giant machines and giant companies. Yankee ingenuity took over, accompanied by an aggressive attitude of man-versus-nature.
California's giant gold machines were the best in the world, but wrecked havoc on California's environment. Massive floating dredges scooped up millions of tons of river gravels; hard rock miners blasted and tunneled their way into the mountains; giant hydraulic monitors literally blew apart the hills and washed them into the streams and rivers. Tons of mercury used to extract the gold escaped into the rivers and entered the food chain. Nature didn't stand a chance. Neither did the farmers and towns downstream. Decades of legislative and legal battles between miners and farmers eventually resulted in controls on mining, and the emergence of agriculture as the dominant industry in California.
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