Dreams for Sale: The California Gold Rush

Dreams for Sale: The California Gold Rush
Caroline Harrison: Economics, Discovery and Daily Life

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: One to two weeks


The Gold Rush of 1949 was a period of time in American history where unimaginable dreams of  prosperity flourished.  When news of gold reached the newspapers, dreams of ‘striking it rich’ was heard at nearly every dinner table.  Caroline Harrison was 17 years old when the ‘49-er’s’ began their travels West.  There is little doubt that the fathers or brothers of some of her friends joined the crowds in search of that shining treasure.


Students will understand the many opportunities and complications that arose from the Gold Rush of the 1800’s.  Through research and role-playing, students will examine economic, social, medical, and political issues that developed from this event.

Materials Required:

Computer PowerPoint (optional) Internet access Word processor (or paper and writing utensil) Research tools: books, textbooks, articles, and magazines. Video camera (optional)


1. Using the websites listed below, as well as other sites and books, articles, etc., students will do preliminary research on the Gold Rush to have a deeper understanding of the economic, social, medical, and political issues that developed from this event.  

2.  Explain to students that they each will be responsible for being an ‘expert’ on one position held by a person in California during the Gold Rush.  

3.  Encourage your students to be creative in selecting their position.  Suggestions include but are not limited to: banker, doctor, store clerk, farmer, miner, politician, etc.   

4. Decide how you want your students to display their expertise.  Make sure you require students to examine the overall impact that the Gold Rush would have on their position. Some suggestions are:

  • Creating a story from the perspective of the character student chooses in the beginning of the lesson.
  • Teacher places students in groups to form a mini-society of different roles to allow students to write and perform a play that can be filmed for the class to view.
  • Students create a slide show using PowerPoint that includes pictures of their “character” and the places they have traveled. 

Extending the Lesson:

  • Invite your students to design and create materials to place on a bulletin board in the classroom or hallway of the school.
  • Students could combine the report and the PowerPoint slide show to give a presentation to the class.

Sources & Resources:


This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.