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CALIFORNIA’S COLORFUL HISTORY

Map of CaliforniaLand!
Gold!
Lights! Camera! Action!

More than any other state, California has lived up to its reputation as the land of opportunity, new beginnings and creative freedom. When you explore the state’s unique history, you add a deeper dimension to your travels here. Reading through this section ushers you into the genesis of a paradise that offers both the natural and cultural resources to renew your faith in the human spirit.

Early Inhabitants

Before the Spanish landed on California’s shorelines, Native Americans had built communities along its beaches, in its mountains and even its deserts. Experts estimate that in 1542 when Spaniard Juan Cabrillo landed on Catalina Island off the shores of what is now Los Angeles, 300,000 indigenous people lived in California, having made their way from Asia, across Siberia, over the glaciers and Bering Straight that once connected Alaska and Siberia. After getting his fill of Catalina Island, Cabrillo ventured south to San Diego, where the Cabrillo National Monument still stands in the seaside neighborhood of Point Loma. For 200 years, the indigenous people lived in relative peace and prosperity along side a few Spanish colonies. In 1769, Spain dispatched a group of Franciscan padres to California. These men built 21 coastal missions along the famed El Camino Real Trail running 650 miles along the California coast. More Spaniards reached California, expanding their power in the area.
By 1821, the indigenous peoples, the Spanish settlers and the children the two cultures created by intermarrying revolted and won independence from Spain. They renamed their territory Mexico. With the westward expansion of the American colonists from the eastern seaboard, however, Mexico began to struggle to retain a good portion of the North American territory it had won. Americans kept pouring in and, in 1846, a group of American gold miners staged a revolt against the Mexican government. The U.S. Army arrived to help, sparking off the Mexican-American War. The Mexican government ceded control of much of California to the United Stated in 1848.

The Gold Rush: California Proves Its Worth . . . Like Right Away

In that very same year (1848), miner James Marshall discovered gold in Sutter’s Sawmill. By 1849, the California Gold Rush began in earnest. As exaggerated news of rivers and veins of gold spread back east, men, women and families flowed into California. The Milliard Fillmore administration quickly admitted California to the Union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850.
For ten years, the expanding state of California remained relatively isolated from the sophisticated cities of America’s east coast. Then, in 1860, with the establishment of the Pony Express mail service, young riders on fast horses facilitated communications between coasts. By 1869, however, Pony Express domination of bi-coastal communication ended with the opening of the transcontinental railroad.

Important Dates in the Past 150 Years of California History

1906: The San Francisco Earthquake and its ensuing fires destroy much of the city.
1910: Hollywood’s very first movie, In Old California, about California’s Mexican era, is shot.
1933: The Dust Bowl ravage mid-western states, ruining crops and driving thousands of farm families to California, the land of “golden” opportunity. John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, centers on a typical farm family that abandons their land to venture west. While they endure incredible hardship, the message at the end is hopeful, as the desperate and brave migrants band together to begin better lives.
1939: Neighbors Bill Packard and Bill Hewlett, two friends from Stanford University, build their first product, an audio oscillator, in their Palo Alto garage. They sell it to a strange but innovative company by the name of Walt Disney Studios. Walt Disney purchases eight oscillators to create an appropriate sound system for the movie Fantasia. Hewlett Packard, and the technologically innovative culture of Silicon Valley, is launched.
1967: Hippies converge on San Francisco’s Haight Asbury neighborhood for their summer of love and civil disobedience. San Francisco became the center of freedom, creative expression and political activism. While New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities also hosted the counterculture revolution, it was San Francisco that brought the whole movement into the public consciousness.
May 5, 2005: Disneyland celebrates is 100th anniversary as former hippies, now babyboomers, bring their children to “The Happiest Place on Earth” in droves. While the California site was the very first, Disney’s resorts in Florida, Hong Kong and France also join in the celebration, unveiling new attractions and recounting its unique history and the life of that remarkable visionary, Walt Disney.