Jump to Content

Growth of Cities

Questions to Consider

What caused California cities to grow in population during the Gold Rush era?

What did buildings and structures look like during this time?

What kinds of transportation did people use?

About the Images

These images record the rapid growth of small settlements into big cities as people continued to come to California from all over the world. Aerial views show spreading cities, and photographs depict the substantial hotels, stores, and other businesses that served the steady influx of new Californians.


Cities up and down the state of California grew rapidly during the Gold Rush era. Some of these cities were veritable boomtowns: San Francisco, a small village in 1847, was a bustling city by 1849, just two years later. San Francisco's population boom even had an impact on its geography. One image from 1847 shows Montgomery Street on the waterfront; but a photograph taken in 1862 shows that the waterfront had been filled to increase the city's real estate, pushing Montgomery Street inland.

Southern California also had its share of rapidly growing cities. Between 1850 and 1870, a span of just 20 years, the population of Los Angeles County grew from 3,530 and 15,309. Lithographs show a bird's eye view of the city and outlying farmland, a vastly different city than the Los Angeles of today. Two photographs of substantial buildings taken in Anaheim in the 1880s — one of a hotel — show clear evidence of growth.

The cities continued to grow because more and more people migrated to California, despite the long and difficult journey. Many transportation businesses encouraged travel to California, and posters advertising travel fares reflected the different ways that people could travel to and within the Golden State: by ship, by train, or in a horse-drawn stagecoach. Some ads even played to travelers' fears, suggesting that crossing by land was safer than by sea.

California Content Standards

English-Language Arts

Grade 4:

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 5:

2.0 Reading Comprehension
2.1 Understand how text features (e.g., format, graphics, sequence, diagrams, illustrations, charts, maps) make information accessible and usable.

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.

History-Social Science

Grade 4:

4.3 Students explain the economic, social, and political life in California from the establishment of the Bear Flag Republic through the Mexican-American War, the Gold Rush, and the granting of statehood. (4.3.3)

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power, tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850s. (4.4.2, 4.4.4)

Grade 5:

5.8 Students trace the colonization, immigration, and settlement patterns of the American people from 1789 to the mid-1800s, with emphasis on the role of economic incentives, effects of the physical and political geography, and transportation systems. (5.8.4)

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.

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)
Maps (PDF) (Source: NARA)
Primary Source Activity (PDF) (Source: Library of Congress)

What is a lithograph?

Lithographs — prints made from drawings on stone or metal plates — became a popular form of newspaper illustration in the 19th century.