Mail to the Gold Mines

Panning Gold

During the California Gold Rush, lonely miners in remote regions were often desperate for letters from home. Leaving their claims for a days-long journey to post offices at San Francisco, Stockton, Sacramento or Marysville wasn’t practical.  An enterprising young man named Alexander Todd came up with a solution, which he proposed to a group of miners. If each of them would pay him one dollar to act as their agent, he would collect their mail at the San Francisco Post Office and deliver it to the recipient for an ounce of gold dust. Todd soon had a lucrative business as thousands subscribed to his service. He invested in a rowboat to navigate the San Joaquin River—and he hauled more than mail. Miners needing transportation from one gold field area to another paid a $16 “tax” to be his rowers. Todd’s private-mail routes were hazardous but for a time he had no competition.  After expanding his services to include the delivery of gold dust to banks in San Francisco, Todd figured he was making $1,000 a day—far, far more than the average gold miner who considered himself very lucky if he panned out $100 a week.

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