Klondike Wastes

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In Seattle, south of downtown, is the National Park Service Klondike Gold Rush Museum. It is 2 floors of fascinating exhibits on the history of the 1897-1898 Klondike, Alaska, gold rush. Like most parks, they have Junior Ranger booklets and badges, and even participatory activities; my kids "panned for gold".

What struck me most about the entire exhibit - businessperson that I am - were the numbers on a plaque hung near the door. During the rush of 1897-1898:

  • 100,000 people traveled to the Klondike
  • 30,000 (30%) actually made it to the Klondike; the rest could not manage the difficult trek of the Inside Passage plus the Chikoot and White Pass trails
  • 4,000 (4%) struck any gold at all
  • 300 (0.3%) earned $15,000 or more in gold

$15,000 was chosen by the Park Service as the amount required to have earned a reasonable return. In other words, if you didn't earn that amount, after giving up wages and the sheer cost of travel, you might as well not have come.

The numbers are staggering. If you were one of 1,000 people leaving for the Klondike, only 3 of you will have gotten any  real benefit. If 100 of you were on a boat, only one person in every 3 boats would have found it worthwhile!

What a phenomenal waste.

The Klondike gold rush may have created some millionaires (or the late-19th-century equivalent), but for the most part it destroyed wealth as surely and as swiftly as a good market crash.