From 1799 through 1965, the United States produced over 300,000,000 ounces of gold, which at the current price of around $1,500 per ounce (as of August 2019) would be valued at over $450 billion dollars.
The period of production from 1848 to the 1930s is considered the golden era of mining. During this period the bulk of all the rich gold districts of the West were discovered. These discoveries drove exploration and settlement of the vast American West, a geographic area that was mostly wilderness before this time.
Many gold districts were small and could only support small camps or towns that lasted just a few years or a decade or two. Other districts were fabulously rich, and great mining cities were built, many of which are still active today.
While modern mining over the last few decades have caused some changes in these rankings, primarily in Alaska and Nevada, we are interested in the historical production numbers during the golden age of mining as the production that occurred during this time built the hundreds of camps and towns that make the West so historically significant.
These are the top ten historical gold producing states in America.
Oregon produced just under 6 million ounces of gold between 1852 and 1965. The primary gold producing regions are in the northeast and southwest corners of the state.
Idaho is credited with over 8 million ounces of gold production between 1863 and 1965. Gold districts are scattered throughout the state, and gold was produced as a byproduct of the silver mines of Idaho’s Silver Valley, the world’s second largest silver producer.
Arizona produced over 13 million ounces of gold between 1860 and 1965. While gold mining occurred in many districts during the second half of the 1800s, it was gold as a byproduct of the great copper mines developed after 1900 that contributed significantly to Arizona’s production numbers.
Related: Where to Find Gold in Arizona
Montana produced almost 18 million ounces of gold from 1862 through 1965. Almost half of the states production was from placer mines, most of which occurred before 1870. The great copper mines of Butte produced much of the states gold after 1900.
Utah produced almost 18 million ounces of gold through 1965, just barely beating Montana’s production numbers. While the state contains gold districts scattered throughout the state, the bulk of historical production can be credited to the Bingham district where gold was first mined in placer operations, and later was a byproduct of Bingham’s spectacular copper mines.
Nevada produced over 27 million ounces of gold between 1859 and 1965. Nevada has had an extensive and varied history of gold production. Numerous gold districts have produced gold as the primary commodity, but gold as a byproduct of silver and copper mines have also been important.
Alaska produced just under 30 million ounces of gold through 1965. More than half of this production was from placer operations in the Yukon and the Seward Peninsula near Nome. The Southwest part of the state around Juneau is where most of the state’s historical lode mining occurred.
3. South Dakota
South Dakota produced over 31 million ounces of Gold. The bulk of this production was from the Homestake mine in Lead, the longest operating and deepest mine in America.
Colorado produced over 40 million ounces of gold prior to 1965. The state had numerous important gold districts, including Central City and Cripple Creek. Much gold was also produced as a byproduct of Colorado’s fantastic silver districts, most notably at Leadville.
California was by far the largest historical gold producer with more than 106 million ounces of gold between 1848 and 1965. The gold fields of the central and northern Sierra were the largest producers, but the placer mines of the wild Klamath region in the northwest part of the state were also rich and produced for many decades.
Placer operations transitioned to lode mining throughout the state, and California remained the leading gold producer well into the twentieth century.
Related: Where to Find Gold in California