California's West Coast is about as far from the ‘Old World’ as you can travel and as result, it is a place of constant reinvention.
After the initial rush in 1849, gold quickly ran out and San Francisco fell into an economic depression. The downturn was short-lived however, and the Comstock Lode discovered in 1859 ushered in a Silver Rush that brought ten times the wealth of the Gold Rush.
Eventually, the silver was depleted and miners, along with new immigrants, turned to farming. Today, California boasts an agricultural sector that produces most of the country's fruits and nuts and brings in $53 billion annually. In 1890, oil was found in southern California and by 1903, California was the largest oil producing state in the country. Shortly thereafter, the film industry took hold in Hollywood, and played leading role in America's entertainment sector.
Since the invention of the silicon transistor in 1953, the Santa Clara Valley has been center a of high-tech innovation. The “dot com” boom in the mid 1990’s brought massive amounts of money to the area, but led to a bust in 2000. Currently the region is in the midst of another boom, and Silicon Valley has become the highest wealth producing sector in the United States. These waves of industry have made California one of the most prosperous places on the planet, and San Francisco one of the wealthiest cities. However such rapid change and growth has a cost.
In San Francisco’s most recent high tech “Gold Rush” the culture is struggling to assimilating people fast enough. Working class neighborhoods are rapidly changing as they cater to tech workers who commute daily to Silicon Valley, and rapidly increasing housing prices are pushing long time residents out of the city.
San Francisco has always been a city of immigrants making it a challenge to maintain a collective identity and sense of history, but what all inhabitants have in common is a love of the city. Emperor Norton’s story shines a light on the amazing history of San Francisco and brings together natives and newcomers. Not only does the Emperor serve as a foil to discuss the early decades of San Francisco, but his story describes cultural roots of the city and its place in the world.