The First Millionaire of the West
Who was Samuel Brannan?
Samuel Brannan was considered the first millionaire west of the Mississippi. He became a millionaire during the California gold rush in 1849 by capitalizing on the needs of miners. He created a monopoly over mining goods and supplies in California.
Sam was born in Saco, Maine in 1819. He grew up as a member of the Mormon church, the Latter Day Saints. Sam later moved to Ohio in 1844 to help out with his church. It was here he learned about journalism and printing. When the center of his church relocated to California in 1846, Sam went with them with the intent to help lead. Moving to California would turn out to be both the best and worst things he could possibly do.
Samuel Brannan and his Millionaire Monopoly
Sam heard gold had been discovered. So he started buying gold at a cheap rate from early miners with money he stole from the church and resold it for a large profit. He the used the money he was making from buying and selling gold to buy up all the available mining supplies in San Francisco. He published news of the gold findings in his paper, the California Star.
Once word spread of all the undiscovered gold available in California, the gold rush began. Same owned the only supply store between the mining fields and San Francisco. So every single miner that came out for gold had no choice but to stop at the store owned by Sam Brannan. He eventually opened several more stores. His first store was selling $150,000 a month in goods and supplies in 1849 (almost $4 million in today’s money).
Samuel also increased his fortune in other ways. He had several luxury hotels built in various cities in California. He also created a successful ship trade with China and the east coast.
Crime was very high in San Francisco due to the large volume of people and the large amount of gold and money. The average murder rate was 49 per 100,000 people. So to help maintain his own control over much of San Francisco, Samuel formed the San Francisco committee of Vigilance. It was an unofficial citizens police force. Unfortunately Samuel was part of a group in this committee that was accused of helping to kill in innocent man. This event would get him removed form the Latter Day Saints.
After the gold rush things started going bad for Samuel Brannan. Being removed from his church that he was
member of most of his life, and marital problems with his wife were just a few. His wife filed for divorce and he would eventually lose most of his fortune to this. Samuel Brannan died alone, homeless and penniless on May 6, 1889 in Escondido, California.
Samuel Brannan and his Legacy
By publishing the finding of gold in California in his news paper, he essentially created the gold rush and was the cause of so many people making the long journey to California. If he hadn’t published this, would the news still have made it to east coast? Or would the California gold rush not have happened as fast as it did. We will never know.
Sam Brannan helped the California economy in many ways. He basically helped to increase the population, therefore stimulating the local economy. He helped form the
Society of California Pioneers to develop banks, railroads, and telegraph companies. He also played a large part in a company that initiated the development of the now largely populated Los Angeles County.
Samuel Brannan is an example of how a single person can affect the economy of our country on multiple levels and over a long period of time. We as Americans have been, and always will be a capitalistic society as Samuel Brannan demonstrated. He played a large role in Californian economic history.