The first Spanish missionaries arrived in California in the 1700s, but California didn’t become a U.S. territory until 1847, as part of the treaty ending the Mexican-American War. Shortly thereafter, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848 inspired a wave of settlers to head to the west coast in search of fortune. In 1850 California became the 31st state, and is now the third largest state behind Alaska and Texas. With millions of acres of farmland, California leads the U.S. in agricultural production. The state is also home to famous cultural institutions and national parks including: Hollywood, Disneyland, Yosemite National Park, Alcatraz, Angel Island and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Date of Statehood: September 9, 1850
Population: 37,253,956 (2010)
Size: 163,694 square miles
Nickname(s): The Golden State; The Land of Milk and Honey; The El Dorado State; The Grape State
Motto: Eureka (“I have found it”)
Tree: California Redwood
Bird: California Valley Quail
- Following James Marshall’s discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma in 1848, California’s population leaped from 14,000 to 250,000 in only four years. Between 1850 and 1859, miners extracted 28,280,711 fine ounces of gold.
- California has the largest economy in the United States and, in 1997, was the first state to reach the trillion-dollar benchmark in gross state product. In 2012, California was ranked the ninth largest economy in the world.
- California grows more than 3.3 million tons of winegrapes on over 540,000 acres each year and produces roughly 90 percent of all U.S. wine.
- The highest and lowest points in the continental United States are located within 100 miles of one another in California: Mount Whitney measures 14,505 feet and Badwater Basin in Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level.
- Considered to be the hottest, driest place in the United States, Death Valley often reaches temperatures greater than 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer and averages only around two inches of rain each year.
- With a trunk slightly greater than 102 feet in circumference, the General Sherman in Sequoia National Park is the largest living tree (by volume) in the world. It is estimated to be somewhere between 1,800 to 2,700 years old.
- Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes each year, although only 15 to 20 of them have a magnitude greater than 4.0.
- Despite its urbanization and the loss of land to industry, California still leads the country in agricultural production. About one-half of the state’s land is federally owned. National parks located throughout the state are devoted to the preservation of nature and natural resources.