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From gold rush to gold standard: history's filigree

A timeline of the precious metal's effects on the world – from gold rush to gold standard.

July 16, 2011

Gold runs like a filigree of power through world history, from gold rush to gold standard. Here, an 1850 wood engraving shows Fortyniners washing for gold in the California gold rush. This is part of a cover story project – The New Gold Rush – in the July 18 issue of The Christian Science Monitor weekly magazine.

PHOTO: Newscom

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5500-2500 BC Gold is first discovered in the later part of the Stone Age, probably in Mesopotamia.

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3000 BC Gold rings are used for payments in Egypt.

650 BC The Lydian Lion – a bean-shaped gold piece stamped with a lion – is considered the first true coin. It is first minted by Lydia, the ancient Greek kingdom ruled by Croesus a century later.

250 BC The Greek mathematician Archimedes demonstrated that the purity of gold can be determined by calculating its density (weight and amount of water it displaces•).•

AD 1284 Venice introduces the gold ducat, which becomes the most popular coin in world commerce for more than five centuries.

1511 King Ferdinand of Spain sets the tone for his expeditions to the New World, admonishing his explorers: "Get gold, humanely if you can, but at all hazards, get gold."

1787 First American gold coin – the Brasher doubloon – is struck by gold- and silversmith Ephraim Brasher.

1792 The Coinage Act puts the US on a bimetallic silver-gold standard, defining the dollar as equivalent to 24.75 grains of fine gold and 371.25 grains of fine silver.

1799 The first US gold rush is sparked by the discovery of a 17-pound gold nugget at Little Meadow Creek, N.C.

1821 Britain institutes the first gold standard.

1848 The discovery of gold at Sutter's sawmill near Sacramento, Calif., sparked the California gold rush and accelerated settlement of the American West.

1851 Australian gold rush begins in New South Wales, in the southeast.

1870s North American gold finds make the metal more plentiful, prompting the US, Germany, and France to adopt the gold standard, followed by many other countries.

1886 While digging up stones to build a house, George Harrison makes the largest gold discovery in history in Witwatersrand, South Africa. The deposit produces 40 percent of the world's gold by 1985.

1887 Scottish chemist John Steward MacArthur wins a British patent for the gold cyanidation process. It enables the separation of gold from ore and doubles the world gold output within 20 years.

1897 The Klondike gold rush sees 100,000 "stampeders" head north after gold is discovered in the Canadian Yukon the previous year.

1900 The Gold Standard Act places the US officially on the gold standard, a fixed exchange rate in relation to other countries on the gold standard.

1903 The Engelhard Corporation creates a liquid medium to print gold on surfaces – for tender and decoration. The medium becomes the basis for microcircuit printing technology.

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