Famous gold rush men, Armour, Studebaker, and Strauss

California, from the discovery of gold to statehood, remained wild, lawless and free. Opportunities abounded, a pure free market, unregulated and unrestrained. The class distinctions of the east coast evaporated. Women earned huge sums of money from simple domestic chores that would be impossible to make elsewhere. And for men with skill, vision, and talent there were no limits to what they could do.

Philip D. Armour

One such man, Philip Danford Armour, one of eight children from a farm in Stockbridge, N.Y., walked across the country to California in 1852. He tried his hand at mining then dug ditches before opening a butcher shop in Hangtown. Armour saved his money and moved to Milwaukee where he opened a grocery business. In 1867 he formed Armour and Company. The first to produce canned meat, Armour went on to own the largest fleet of refrigerated railroad cars in America and to eliminate waste from the meat packing process. It was he who coined the phrase “We use everything but the squeal.”

John Studebaker

Wheelbarrow Johnny, or John Mohler Studebaker, was born in Gettysburg, Pa. in 1833, but moved to 0hio three years later. In the early 1850s he was at 543 Main Street in Hangtown, building wheelbarrows and safely stashing his profits away. At age 25 he left California and joined his brothers in South Bend where they built over 750,000 wagons, many used in the overland trek to the west coast. In 1902 Studebaker produced an electric car and then two years later a gasoline-powered model. John remained president until he died at 84.

Today perhaps the best known of the gold rush era men is Levi Strauss. He came to New York in 1847 at the age of 18. A Jew from Bavaria he joined his families dry goods business. Then, after becoming an American citizen, he sailed by steamship to Panama, crossed the jungle and took another steamer to San Francisco in 1853. Here he opened a successful wholesale dry goods business that eventually moved to Battery Street. It wasn’t until 1872 that a tailor named Jacob Davis asked him to share the patent for a rivet that would strengthen the seams of already popular denim pants. That was the start of the cultural icon we know today simply as Levi’s.


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