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California History

California’s fabled history has always been about new opportunities and chasing dreams, and the people who make them happen. From the young men who arrived during the Gold Rush to those who looked for a new start during the Depression, and every starry-eyed aspiring actress who heads to Hollywood today, the state has nurtured the dreams of men and women throughout its exciting and varied history.

California's Timeline

California’s Native Peoples

For millennia before the first European explorers arrived, California was home to more than 300,000 Native Californians. Indigenous people were likely living in California by 20,000 – 10,000 B.C.E.

European Discoveries

In 1542 C.E., Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo became the first documented European to set foot in present-day California. Exploring for Spain, he landed at San Diego, Catalina Island, San Pedro and Santa Monica on the mainland, and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands.

In 1579, Sir Francis Drake, on assignment from England to raid Spanish shipping and settlements, landed north of San Francisco Bay to make repairs to his ship. He met a group of indigenous Californians, and claimed the territory for England.

Finding Independence

In an effort to Christianise and colonise the New World, in 1769 Spain sent a group of Franciscan padres to found San Diego De Alcala, the first of 21 coastal missions . Eventually extending along the 650-mile El Camino Real trail, the missions signaled the beginning of the end of the relative peace and prosperity of indigenous Californians.

The same year, Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola established settlements at San Diego, Monterey Bay, and San Francisco, among others.

In 1821, Mexico, which included California, won independence from Spain. In 1846, the Bear Flag Revolt won independence for a small area of California for one week, until the U.S. Army arrived. The current California state flag is based on the flag used in this revolt. In 1848, California became a U.S. holding as a result of the Mexican-American War.

Finding Gold

James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's sawmill in January 1848, kicking off the famous Gold Rush of 1849. Men, and later women, streamed into the area from across the country, determined to find a nugget of opportunity in the newly founded Gold Country.

People’s Progress

California was admitted into the Union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. In 1860, the Pony Express mail courier service was established, improving communication with the Midwest. The youngsters who raced cross-country brought a new mindset of adventure and opportunity with them. In 1869, their race ended, but another began – the incredible race for the newest and greatest technology got a jumpstart when the transcontinental railroad system opened.

Overcoming Disaster

In 1906, a massive earthquake struck San Francisco. The resulting fires almost destroyed the city. However, people refused to give up the California dream – the city was soon rebuilt, and progress continued. In 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the Bay Area, bringing about the dramatic collapse of the Bay Bridge.

Hollywood Memories

In 1910, the first movie was shot in Hollywood, In Old California. One year later, the Nestor Company opened Hollywood’s first film studio, kicking off the industry that would become the movie capital of the world by the end of the decade.

Escape to Paradise

In 1933, dust storms in the Midwest began to drive thousands of farming families to California looking for a new start. Many ended up in the Civilian Conservation Corps., which created some of the amazing landmarks visible today. Many others came to California to work on the farms that still remain the back bone of the Central Valley and Central Coast regions.

Silicon Valley

In 1939, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded Hewlett-Packard in a Palo Alto garage. In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack released the Apple I computer on April Fool’s Day.

Love and Sun

In 1967, hippies converged in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district for the Summer of Love.

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