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Rich Resources

Questions to Consider

In what ways do you see people using or controlling water resources?

What impact did water projects like dams and aqueducts have on California's landscape?

What impact did the discovery of oil have on California's landscape?

What different kinds of work do people do to help develop California’s resources?

About the Images

These images show the importance of both California's natural and human resource potential to the state’s development and subsequent wealth. Natural resources like water, lumber, and oil — along with human-driven resources like transportation, agriculture, and technology — have all contributed to California's growth. These natural resources drew many different ethnic groups to the state: human resources that would construct railways and aqueducts, plant crops and harvest them, strike it rich in oil or minerals, and innovate new technology.


California's history has been shaped by human management of its rich resources — water, lumber, oil, minerals, agriculture. Ancient Native Californians managed the environment almost invisibly, through controlled burning that encouraged continued new growth. As successive groups of settlers and citizens tried to control and harness the state’s water (both for survival and to capitalize on California's agricultural and mineral potential), the landscape was transformed. Irrigation was crucial to Californio ranchos and to the hydraulic mining of another lucrative resource — gold.

Getting water to people and fields was a problem. One photograph shows an early irrigation system for citrus orchards; another shows water being packed in on mules.

At the other end of the spectrum, flooding (as shown by the photograph of men boating down a flooded San Jose street in 1911) was a problem. Levees were built to hold back waters from flooding cities, as pictured in Sacramento in 1913.

Large-scale irrigation projects helped the state evolve into the nation's leading agricultural producer, especially in formerly arid regions. The humorous photograph of a burro in Death Valley is a truer picture of much of the Southern California landscape before water management’s dramatic changes.

California's population exploded in the 20th century, and more water began to be diverted to serve people and agriculture. A photograph shows the opening of the head gates for the Los Angeles Aqueduct in 1913, which fueled the city’s rapid growth.

In the 1920s, the Hetch Hetchy Valley, near Yosemite, was converted into a reservoir to serve San Francisco’s growing water supply needs. Compare the early 1900s photograph of the Hetch Hetchy Valley before flooding, and the 1948 photograph of the reservoir.

Beginning in the 19th century, railroads transported people, agriculture, lumber, and gold in and out of California. Back-breaking railroad construction (pictured in the 1970 Henry Sugimoto painting) encouraged immigration and migration of different ethnic laborers, including Chinese, African Americans, and Europeans.

Oil, the 20th century’s “black gold,” helped to fuel industrial development, especially in Southern California. The prosperous family photographed at the Lucille Oil Company in 1907 shows the early stages of the oil industry. By 1930, the photograph of the family visiting the Coalinga oil fields displays the multitude of oil derricks dotting the landscape.

The people needed to design and construct large-scale water projects, harvest crops, build railroads, and create new industries are all crucial components of California's wealth. Men, women, and children of various ethnic and racial backgrounds all contributed to the growth and development of California’s industries. The images here show women working in the fields and supervising the Hetch Hetchy project. The photograph of campesinos, and the Victor Ochoa mural entitled "Labor in San Diego," reminds us that farm work often involves families and migrant communities.

Although California was no stranger to new technological achievements, the rapid development of the computer industry in and around the Silicon Valley area bolstered the state’s prominence within the global economy. The 1965 photograph shows a student working on an early computer. In the 21st century, the human ingenuity necessary for technological innovation and new industries continues to bolster the state’s potential.

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade Four

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write information reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Make informational presentations.

Grade Five

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write research reports about important ideas, issues, or events.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver informative presentations about an important idea, issue, or event.

Grade Eight

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.3 Write research reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.3 Deliver research presentations.

Grade Eleven

1.0 Writing Strategies: Research and Technology

2.0 Writing Applications
2.4 Write historical investigation reports.

2.0 Speaking Applications
2.2 Deliver oral reports on historical investigations.
2.4 Delivery multimedia presentations.

History-Social Science

Grade Four

4.1 Students demonstrate an understanding of the physical and human geographic features that define places and regions in California. (4.1.3, 4.1.4, 4.1.5)

4.4.7 Trace the evolution of California's water system into a network of dams, aqueducts, and reservoirs

Grade Five

5.1.1 Describe how geography and climate influenced the way various nations lived and adjusted to the natural environment, including locations of villages, the distinct structures that they built, and how they obtained food, clothing, tools, and utensils.

Grade Eight

8.8.4 Examine the importance of the great rivers and the struggle over water rights.

8.12.1 Trace patterns of agricultural and industrial development as they relate to climate, use of natural resources, markets, and trade and locate such development on a map.

Grade Eleven

11.2.6 Trace the economic development of the United States and its emergence as a major industrial power, including its gains from trade and the advantages of its physical geography.

11.11.5 Trace the impact of, need for, and controversies associated with environmental conservation, expansion of the national park system, and the development of environmental protection laws, with particular attention to the interaction between environmental protection advocates and property rights advocates.

11.8.6 Discuss the diverse environmental regions of North America, their relationship to local economies, and the origins and prospects of environmental problems in those regions.

Visual Arts

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of the Visual Arts.
Students analyze the role and development of the visual arts in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting human diversity as it relates to the visual arts and artists.

Note about picture captions

The original captions on some of the historical photographs may include racial terms that were commonplace at the time, but considered to be derogatory today.

Analysis Tools

6C's of Primary Source Analysis (PDF) (Source: UCI History Project)
Photographs (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)
Posters/Visuals (PDF) (Source: Bringing History Home)
Written Documents (PDF) (Source: NARA)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)