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California: Golden State

CAPITAL: Sacramento
JOINED UNION: September 9, 1850
STATE BIRD: Valley Quail
STATE FLOWER: Golden Poppy
MEANING OF STATE NAME: Named by Spanish after Califia, a mythical paradise in a
Spanish romance written by Montalvo in 1510
1992 POPULATION: 30,866,851
LAND AREA: 155,973 square miles
ECONOMY: Tourism, entertainment industry, electronics, aerospace, auto manufacturing, agriculture, fruits and vegetables, oil
HISTORY: Indian tribes like the Chumash, Mohave, and Paiute lived peacefully in California's fertile lands for centuries before Spanish explorer Cabrillo saw it in the 1540s. The first of many Spanish missions was established in San Diego in 1769. Russians came down from Alaska to settle parts of northern California in the early 1800s. Mostly, California was under Mexican rule until America won the land in 1848 during the Mexican War. That same year, gold was discovered
in northern California and in 1849 a massive Gold Rush brought people to the state. With three major ports (San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles), California is an important area of trade with Asian Pacific countries. California is also home to Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world; music, film, and television studios are centered here and draw scores of tourists, as do the state's beaches and surfing.

California, Here I Come!

January 24, 1848


While building a sawmill for Johann Sutter on California's American River, James Marshall spotted yellow flecks in the water. It was gold. Soon the word that gold had been found in California was in all the country's newspapers. In 1849, close to one-hundred thousand people rushed West to make their fortune. This was the great California Gold Rush and the people who went were called "Forty-niners."

Many people made the journey to California by land. Others made the trip by sea, journeying around the tip of South America or going to and from Panama by boat, or by taking a train between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

Over the next few years, over $200 million in gold was mined from California's hills. All that money and all those people led to the growth of violence among miners as people tried to steal each other's claims and gold.

The city of San Francisco grew dramatically from all the new people, as did the state. In 1850, one year after the "Forty-niners" arrived, California became the 31st state.

Alcatraz Prison: The Rock In the Bay

We may never know for sure if anybody has ever escaped from the 12-acre island penitentiary of Alcatraz. While most of those who attempted to do so were shot, or drowned in the San Francisco Bay, Frank Lee Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin successfully made their way to the edge of the water on June 11, 1962, then disappeared. Maybe they drowned and were swept out to sea -- or maybe not.

The barren island came to be called "The Rock," though the word "alcatraces" is Spanish for "cormorant." The birds on the island reminded early Spanish explorers of the cormorants in Spain.

The island was used as a fort and prison during the US Civil War, then as a military prison for those serving long sentences.

On July 1, 1934 it became a US penitentiary, and housed only the most violent criminals, such as the notorious Al Capone and "Machine Gun" Kelly.

Alcatraz Penitentiary was closed in 1963 when it became too expensive to maintain.

Emperor Norton's Bridge

1933 to 1937


In 1869, the Oakland Daily News published a suggestion by Joshua Norton -- a local eccentric known to himself as Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico -- that a bridge be built across the Golden Gate just north of San Francisco, California.

Nobody took Norton's claim to a throne seriously, but his bridge plan had merit. Though it took a while, his idea caught on and construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge in February 1933.

The massive, bright orange structure was designed by bridge-builder Joseph B. Strauss. It is a mile long and features cables that can each hold 200 million pounds, 746-foot-high towers that are the tallest in the world, and a main span that is 4,200 feet long.

For 27 years after its completion in 1937, the $37 million bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Today it is superseded by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York Harbor.


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