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California Overview

California's worldwide portrayal as a remarkably generous and comfortable land has been a powerful magnet for immigrants. And their expectations were first born, robust and howling, in 1849, when California promised a fortune. San Francisco was the catalyst, the source of risk-taking investors and new inventions. Known as "The City" - the capital of a mining empire - this rough, masculine city-state commanded the trade of the West. And it was San Francisco that dominated world awareness of California.

Through the 1880s San Francisco continued to dominate California's wealth, culture, and political power. And then in the last decade of the 19th century, and ever more rapidly through the 20th century, Los Angeles vied for attention. More and more powerfully it sent out its own images. In time it would become the dominant city, the place that, to many, was synonymous with the name California. In 1876, the Southern Pacific Railroad finally extended its rail system into Los Angeles. To lure passengers, the SP allied with real estate developers, tourist hotels, and local entrepreneurs to promote the Southland as a place of beauty, peace, and health, blessed with a climate free from thunderstorms and tornadoes. No snow, ice, sleet, or mud. A climate without perils. A Pacific Utopia.

The selling of Southern California succeeded not only because of such alluring images, but also because of the irresistibly cheap cost of travel to the Mediterranean-like paradise. Competing railroads delivered 12,000 eager tour-ists and settlers each month, and Los Angeles' population grew from 11,000 in 1880 to more than 100,000 by 1900.

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

Indispensable to the new economy and the image of the region, the citrus industry took root in the 1880s and '90s. The ideal symbol of sunshine and health, the orange became Southern California's principal crop. Today, the citrus industry still thrives near Riverside, in the Inland Empire.

Oil played a significant role in the region's development as well. Los Angeles' oil industry may have started modestly - seven barrels a day in 1892. But within two years, hundreds of wells pumped 700,000 barrels of "black gold" annually. Oil was new, an energy source that replaced coal and created far more capital investment in Southern California than gold had gained for the north. And oil refined into gasoline fueled Los Angeles' rush into the 20th century, on the wheels of the newest machine: the automobile.

Of all Southern California's astonishments, Hollywood most captured Americans' imaginations. A corps of newspapermen, columnists, and magazine writers reported daily on every aspect of Hollywood. The personal lives of movie people were of particular import: their astounding salaries, their divorces, adulteries, seductions, and wild parties, their yachts and private railroad cars, stucco mansions, and sunken bathtubs. New words and glamorous images - bathing beauties and starlets, boudoir and bungalow - conveyed to millions of Americans new visions of Southern California and new expectations for their own lives.

17-mile drive Monterey
17-mile drive Monterey

More than any other state, California felt the impact of World War II. Government spending - scores of billions of dollars each year - revolutionized every aspect of the state's economy. Agricultural output tripled, and chemical, machinery, petroleum, textile, and forest product industries expanded at a frenzied pace. The nation and the world soon were forming a new picture of California: a place of prodigious productivity.

Working three shifts, 24 hours every day, Henry J. Kaiser's shipyards built hundreds of Liberty ships. Vast aircraft plants in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Burbank, Long Beach, El Segundo, and San Diego shipped tens of thousands of warplanes to the Army, Navy and U.S. allies.

Lured by the promise of housing and medical care, more than 700,000 workers had come to California by 1943. For these workers in the defense industries, as for millions of Americans in military service, wartime California became a place and a time never to be forgotten. Trailer camps, prefab housing, schools operating on double shifts, movie houses and bars open all night. Sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen enjoying newfound freedoms in paradise. There had been nothing like it since the days of the '49ers.

Muscle Beach Santa Monica
Muscle Beach Santa Monica

After the war, California continued to boom: in residential housing, highway construction, development of quick-freezing in agriculture, retail construction (a boom in supermarkets), automobile production, and development of the steel industry at Fontana. So went the rest of the economy, from movies to tires. And because California received a larger percentage of government billions than any other state, most of which was invested in research and military contracts, it developed yet another image: as the science center of the nation, the frontier of the great scientific revolution where Nobel Prize winners used modern physics to control atomic energy, where departments of science dominated huge universities, and where professors in their labs worked with generals in the Pentagon.

By 1960, California's population surged to more than 15.7 million. In 1962, the population of the Golden State - more than 17 million - officially surpassed that of New York.

Flexing Its Muscles

California continued to expand its power and influence into the 1980s. Politically, it had more votes and lobbyist clout in Congress than any other state, by far. Economically, its gross product would make it the sixth-largest nation in the world. And it was beginning to achieve supremacy in a new, powerful field: electronics.

By the 1990s, Silicon Valley, near San Jose, commanded a major share of a California that was morphing again. So different, yet even more famous than Hollywood, this high-tech wonderland has special appeal because of Americans' passions for science, success, and surprise. Scientists and other risk takers produce new, indispensable products: integrated circuits, semiconductors, microprocessors, digital computers, memory circuits, modems, and robots. This galaxy of inventions reflects the state's world leadership in the information and technology revolution. It's been described as California's new Gold Rush.

No wonder California has such an appeal to the young. Where else are daring dreams so welcomed and so often rewarded? With the freedom to make a new life and the opportunity to work in a wildly diverse society and economy, California boldly projects into the 21st century its image as America - only more so.




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Source: California Tourism; LA CVB; San Diego CVB; magazineUSA.com
Last modified: 20100401
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