Encyclopedia Article


The 31st state to join the Union, California was originally settled by hundreds of small, seminomadic indigenous groups before becoming the part of the Spanish Empire known as Alta, or upper, California. After the war of independence between Mexico and Spain, in 1821 California became a part of Mexico and then a part of the United States of America after the Mexican-American War in 1848. Although the name "California" derives from a 17th-century Spanish romance about an island of gold, in 1848, with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, California became known as "the golden state" as thousands of people migrated to California by land, over well-established trails, and by boat, thus marking the beginning of the California Gold Rush.

There are a number of iconic landscapes and architectural sites in the state including Yosemite National Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, Disneyland, Redwood National Park, Lake Tahoe, Death Valley, and Hollywood to name but only a few. The state is best known for its connections to the film industry, the wine making business, and its agriculture, which was wrested from the western deserts via huge irrigation projects and the back-breaking labor of often undocumented immigrant farm workers.

Photo Credit: 

"Yosemite Valley in Fall, October 27, 2013" by Loïc Lagarde is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.