Principal Gold Producing Districts of the United States

Note: this report was published in 1968, and while most of the data is still relevant it does not reflect the significant gold industry that continues to produce in Nevada. Nevada likely resides at a position higher than fifth largest gold producer as described in this article.

Except for small recoveries of gold by Indians and Spanish explorers, gold was first discovered and mined in the United States in North Carolina in 1799. This initial discovery was followed by others in the 1820's and 1830's in several of the other Appalachian States. These States produced significant amounts of gold until the Civil War.

After the discovery of gold in California in 1848, the Western States contributed the bulk of this country's gold production. New discoveries in widely separated areas in the Western States followed in rapid succession.

From 1799 through 1965, the United States produced about 307,182,000 ounces of gold, which at the price of $35 per ounce would be valued in round numbers at $10,751 million.

Districts that have produced more than 10,000 ounces are distributed in 21 States. Five States - California, Colorado, South Dakota, Alaska, and Nevada - have yielded more than 75 percent of the gold produced in this country.

Battle Mountain Mines above Cripple Creek, Colorado
Battle Mountain Mines above Cripple Creek, Colorado

Of the more than 500 districts that have produced more than 10,000 ounces of gold, 45 have produced more than 1 million ounces, and four - Lead, South Dakota, Cripple Creek, Colorado, Grass Valley, California, and Bingham, Utah - have produced more than 10 million ounces each.

The 25 leading districts have produced about half the gold mined in the United States, and the 508 districts that are described account for roughly 90 to 95 percent.

In general, gold is derived from three types of ore: (1) ore in which gold is the principal metal of value, (2) base-metal ore which yields gold as a byproduct, and (3) placers. In the early years, most of the gold was mined from placers, but after 1873, though placers were by no means depleted and continued to contribute significantly to our annual output, production came chiefly from lode deposits.

The search for gold led to the discovery and development of many silver, lead, copper, and zinc deposits from which gold was recovered as a byproduct. Since the late 1930's, byproduct gold has become a significant fraction of the annual domestic gold output.

Most of the gold deposits in the United States are closely associated with and probably genetically related to small batholiths, stocks, and satellitic intrusive bodies of quartz monzonitic composition that range in age from Jurassic to Tertiary. Some deposits, as those in the Southeastern States, may be genetically related to granitic bodies that were intruded at the close of Paleozoic time, and some deposits, as at Jerome, Arizona, are Precambrian in age.


Alaska, the fourth largest gold-producing State, yielded a total of 29,872,981 ounces from the first discovery in 1848 through 1965. More than half of this total was mined from placers in the Yukon region and the Seward Peninsula.

The important lode-mining area has been in Southeastern Alaska, where mines in the Juneau and Chichagof districts produced more than 7 million ounces of gold through 1959.


Arizona ranks eighth among the gold-producing States; a total of about 13,321,000 ounces of gold was mined from 1860 through 1965.

Deposits of copper and silver were known long before the Territory was acquired by the United States, but hostile Indians and lack of water discouraged any large-scale prospecting or mining.

In the 1870's, after the transcontinental railroads were completed and the Indians ceased hostilities, Arizona's gold deposits received considerable attention. Mining activity increased considerably in the early 1900's, when the large porphyry copper deposits at Ajo, Bisbee, Globe - Miami, Clifton - Morenci, Ray, San Manuel, and Superior were developed.

Morenci Arizona ca. 1900
Morenci Arizona ca. 1900

Large-scale mining of these and other copper deposits continues, and most of the gold produced after 1900 has been a byproduct of these ores.


California has produced more gold than any other State - more than 106 million ounces from 1848 through 1965.

The well-known discovery in El Dorado County in 1848 sparked a series of gold rushes that indirectly led to colonization of the entire mountain West. The rich gold placers of California yielded phenomenal wealth in the early years, and as the placers were depleted, prospectors searched for and found the source of the placer gold - the high-grade gold-quartz veins of the Mother Lode and Grass Valley.

Others explored the forbidding mountain ranges of southern California and found productive lodes in the Cove, Rand, and Stedman districts. Placer mining was rejuvenated in the early 1900's with the introduction of large bucket dredges. From the late 1930's onward, dredging operations were responsible for a major part of California's gold output.


Colorado ranks second among the gold-producing States; its gold output through 1965 was about 40,776,000 ounces.

The first publicized discovery of gold in Colorado was in 1858. The immediate rush to the Denver area resulted in important placer finds near Idaho Springs and Central City. Prospectors ranging far up the Arkansas River valley found gold placers near Leadville as early as 1859.

Many rich gold lodes were quickly discovered, and Colorado soon became a major mining area. In the 1870's, important ore discoveries were made in the San Juan Mountains, the Sawatch Mountains, and in the Leadville-Breckenridge area. Gold ore was found in the important Cripple Creek district in 1891.


Idaho, which ranks ninth among the gold-producing States, is credited with producing 8,323,000 ounces of gold from 1863 through 1965.

The earliest recorded discovery in Idaho was of placer gold along the Pend Oreille River in 1852. Rich placers were found soon afterward at Pierce, Elk City, Orofino, Boise Basin, Florence, and Warren, and a brief period of feverish activity followed.

By 1870, many of the richer placers were exhausted, and an intensive search for lode deposits resulted. Large-scale dredging rejuvenated the placers, though after 1900, most of Idaho's gold was produced from lode mines.


Montana, which yielded a total of 17,752,000 ounces of gold from 1862 through 1965, is seventh among the gold-producing States.

Gold was first discovered in 1852 in placers in Powell County, but the influx of prospectors did not begin until the discovery of rich placers in the Bannack district in 1862. Numerous placers were found in rapid succession, among them those of Alder Gulch, which were to become the most productive placers in the State.

Placers, which contributed almost half of Montana's total gold, had their greatest output before 1870; nevertheless, dredging and hydraulic placer mining were conducted on a large scale until World War II.

Parrot Mine - Butte, Montana
Parrot Mine - Butte, Montana

Development of lodes, hindered by lack of railroads in the early days, progressed rapidly in the 1880's and was accelerated greatly with the expansion of operations at Butte in the early 1900's.


Though Nevada is primarily a silver-mining State, it produced a total of about 27,475,000 ounces of gold from 1859 through 1965 and ranks fifth among the gold-producing States.

Mining began in the early 1850's and the period 1859-79 was the boom era of the Comstock Lode and Reese River districts. After a period of decline from 1880 to 1900, the discoveries at Tonopah and Goldfield rejuvenated mining in the State until World War I.

Lead, zinc, and copper mining, which yield gold as a byproduct, dominated Nevada's mining industry from the end of World War I through 1959, although for short periods large gold operations in the Potosi, Round Mountain, and Bullion districts have been significant.

Discovery of the Carlin gold deposit in 1962 has revived interest in the gold potential of the State.

New Mexico

New Mexico produced about 2,267,000 ounces of gold from 1848 through 1965.

Though gold lodes were worked on a small scale as early as 1833, prospectors showed little interest in the territory until the 1860's and 1870's. In rapid succession, lode and placer gold and rich silver and silver-lead discoveries were made, and mining flourished.

By 1900, however, the oxidized ores were depleted, and interest turned to developing the primary base-metal ores from which gold is produced as a byproduct. This trend continued, in general, through 1959. The major gold districts are Elizabeth-town-Baldy, Mogollon, and Lordsburg.


Oregon, the tenth most important gold-mining State, produced 5,797,000 ounces of gold from 1852 through 1965.

Gold placers were worked as early as 1852, but the great rush to Oregon did not take place until 1861, after the placer discovery at Griffin Gulch in Baker County. After an initial period of high placer output, gold lodes were found and developed at a less frenzied rate.

By the early 1900's, gold mining began a decline that lasted until 1934 when it was rejuvenated by the increase in the price of gold. A few districts, notably the Sumpter, were then reactivated, and gold mining was revived through the late 1930's and early 1940's until the demands of World War II diverted mining to commodities other than gold.

Gold mining in Oregon in the post-World War II period has been in a steady decline.

South Dakota

South Dakota, third among the gold-producing States, produced a total of about 31,208,000 ounces of gold through 1965, mostly from the Homestake mine. The gold districts are in the Black Hills in the northwestern part of the State.

Most gold has been produced from lode deposits, but placers have also been mined.

View of Lead, South Dakota from the Homestake Mine
View of Lead, South Dakota from the Homestake Mine


Utah, whose total gold output through 1965 was 17,765,000 ounces, ranks sixth among the gold-producing States.

The first major ore discovery in the State was in 1863, when lead ore was found in Bingham Canyon. Gold placers were found nearby the following year.

Silver-lead ore discoveries in the Cottonwood, Park City, and Tintic districts in the late 1860's and 1870's generated feverish activity which lasted until 1893 when the financial recession caused a sharp drop in the price of silver.

In the early 1900's, large-scale mining of the low-grade copper ores of the Bingham district began. Gold has been an important byproduct of these ores. In 1965, the Bingham district, in addition to being one of the major copper producers of the world, was the second largest gold producer in the United States.

The Tintic, Park City, and Camp Floyd districts also have yielded substantial amounts of gold.


Washington, whose total gold output from 1860 through 1965 was about 3,671,000 ounces, is one of the few States in which gold production has increased in recent years, mainly because of the output of the Knob Hill mine in the Republic district and the Gold King mine in the Wenatchee district.

Gold was first discovered in the State in 1853 in the Yakima River valley. Placers were worked along most of the major streams of the State through the 1880's, but most of them were depleted by the early 1900's. Lode deposits were found in the 1870's and eventually supplanted placers as the chief source of gold.

Of the 15 major gold districts of Washington, the most productive have been Republic, Wenatchee, and Chelan Lake.


Wyoming is a minor gold-producing State; its total output through 1965 was about 82,000 ounces. Only two districts - the Douglas Creek and the Atlantic City South Pass City - have been significant.


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