People of northeast Asia follow herds of caribou, bison, and mammoth across the Bering Land Bridge and into the American continents.
Large coastal villages are inhabited, with fewer people in the interior and islands.
200– 500 CE
A continental drought leads to wide migration. The Tongvas move west from the Mojave desert to settle in the Los Angeles basin.
Chinese records mention the explorer Hui Shan, who sails the Pacific and may have reached the California coast. Hui notes seeing tall trees made of red wood on his journeys.
The population of the area now known as California stands at more than 300,000 Native Americans.
1520–1668 EARLY EUROPEAN EXPLORATION
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sails up the coast of California, stepping onshore at the present-day harbor of San Diego. He claims Catalina Island, off the coast of present-day Long Beach, for Spain.
A typhus epidemic kills hundreds of thousands of Native Americans in Cuba and New Spain (which contains present-day California), one of the first of a series of European disease outbreaks that ravage native populations.
Sir Francis Drake lands north of the San Francisco Bay and claims the territory for England. He then leaves, crossing the Pacific Ocean.
1669–1799 CONTINUED EXPLORATION AND SETTLEMENT
Spain separates the Dominican missions from Franciscan missions, and Alta California (Upper California) is formed. California is now separated into two parts: Alta (sometimes referred to as "New") California, and Baja ("Lower," or sometimes "Old") California. The territory includes what is now the state of California and parts of Nevada. The first Alta California mission is founded in San Diego by Padre Junipero Serra. Father Serra continues to establish 21 missions along a 650-mile trail, the El Camino Real, from San Diego to Sonoma.
Juan Bautista de Anza leads 198 colonists and 1,000 cattle to California from Sonora, Mexico.
The Acagchemem Native American tribe builds a small adobe church at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Today it is the oldest building still in use in California. A bell tower is completed in 1791.
1800–1848 AN EMERGING CALIFORNIA
Boston-based whalers kill an estimated 150,00 fur seals on the Farallon Islands, 28 miles west of San Francisco. Russian hunters follow and occupy the islands for 25 years, during which they wipe out the remaining fur seal population. Fur seals will not begin to return to the area until around 1977; the first pup is born in 1996.
Thomas W. Doak, a sailor from Boston, jumps ship and becomes the first American to settle in California.
Mexico wins its independence from Spain, and California passes from Spanish to Mexican rule; Mexico rules over California with a series of 12 governors for more than 20 years.
Mission San Francisco de Solano de Sonoma is the last of the 21 California missions founded to convert Native Americans and develop local resources. The mission is established by Father Jose Altimira, who plants the first grapevines in the area with Spanish explorer Francisco Castro. Two years later Franciscan missionaries will open vineyards in the area to make sacramental wine. Now known as Napa after the native tribe who inhabited the region, the area will one day become world famous for its wine.
Jedediah Smith leads an expedition across the Mohave desert and San Bernadino Mountains to San Diego. These are the first known whites to cross the southwestern part of the continent.
A smallpox epidemic north of San Francisco kills over 60,000 Native Americans.
Captain John Sutter arrives in California and convinces the Mexican governor to grant him lands on the Sacramento River. He establishes a sawmill, now known as Sutter's Mill, on a hill in Coloma in 1841.
(May 1) The first wagon train leaves Independence, Missouri for California.
The California Missions are sold at public auction. Don Juan Forster, the brother-in-law of the Mexican governor of California, buys Mission San Juan Capistrano for $710.
(May 13) Under President James Polk, the U.S. declares war against Mexico. During the Mexican-American war, 25,000 Mexicans and 12,000 Americans lose their lives in the 17 months of violence.
(June 14) Americans in Northern California rebel against Mexican authorities in the Bear Flag Revolt, proclaiming California a republic.
(July 7) Commodore John Sloat claims California for the United States.
(October 31) Heavy snows trap the Donner party in the eastern Sierras near present-day Truckee. After several weeks in the mountains, in desperation, 10 men and five women leave on snowshoes to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. All five women and two of the men survive. When rescuers finally reach the party in mid-February, all but one of the dead has been eaten by the surviving members.
Under the command of John C. Fremont, U.S. Army forces attack the Maidu Native American villages along the Sacramento River.
(January 24) While inspecting the construction of Sutter's Mill near Coloma, Carpenter James Marshall discovers a gold nugget. Marshall, Sutter, and their workers try to keep the discovery secret, but gold-seekers quickly pour into California. This event kicks off the famous California Gold Rush of 1849. Three hundred thousand men, women, and children soon arrive from around the world, transforming San Francisco into a boomtown and leading to the development of state infrastructure and wide-scale agricultural development.
(February 2) The Treaty of Guadeloupe makes California a U.S. holding, ending the Mexican-American War. Mexico cedes one-third of its territory, including Alta California, to the U.S. in return for $15 million, and agrees to the Rio Grande as the boundary between Texas and Mexico.
1849–1899 THE GOLD RUSH AND IMMIGRATION
(October 13) Voters approve the state constitution, which is written in both English and Spanish and prohibits slavery. California asks to be admitted into the Union as a free state.
(September 9) California becomes the 31st state admitted to the Union. Congress hesitates to admit a new free state, but grants admission due to California's booming population and the discovery of gold.
California passes laws that allow the enslavement of Native Americans up to the age of 30 for males and 25 for females.
A cholera epidemic kills 10 percent of the population of Sacramento, 15 percent in San Jose.
California Governor Peter Burnette asserts that, unless California's Native Americans are exiled east of the Sierra Nevada mountains, "a war of extermination would continue to be waged until the Indian race should become extinct." By 1851, fewer than 100,000 Native Americans remain in California.
More than 20,000 Chinese immigrants arrive in the U.S, fleeing floods, droughts, famine, and revolution.
Built to house a mere 50 inmates, the state prison at San Quentin is completed. It is today the oldest operating prison in the state, housing 5,000 inmates.
Based in San Francisco, Levi Strauss and Company begins peddling "tough" denim pants to California gold miners at $13.50 a dozen. A century later, jeans will become the uniform of the American teenager and make an indelible mark on American popular culture.
California passes a law that bans the immigration of Chinese and "Mongolians."
President James Buchanan signs a letter that confirms the return of California mission properties to the Catholic Church.
The U.S. Pony Express begins when one horse and rider carries a mail pouch from Sacramento to St. Joseph, Missouri in 10.5 days. However, the system fails after 18 months due to competition from the telegraph.
The Civil War. Because of its location, California plays a relatively minor role. Fighting on the side of the Union, it sends gold east to help in the war effort, recruits volunteer combat units, and builds and maintains several camps and forts, securing the New Mexico territory against the Confederacy. The war delays the construction of the state capitol in Sacramento.
Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collis Huntington found the Central Pacific Railroad, which heads east from Sacramento.
California imposes a "police tax" ($2.50 per month) on every Chinese person in the state.
The worst steamship disaster in the U.S. occurs off the coast of Northern California near Crescent City when 221 people die after the ship is grounded. The steamship is en route to Puget Sound and carries $2 million in gold. In the 1990s, divers will recover 1,207 gold coins.
Two thousand Chinese railroad workers strike, demanding wages, an end to whippings, and a limit of eight hours a day spent in hot tunnels. Charles Crocker cuts off the strikers' food supply and threatens to fire them; the strike collapses after a week.
California prohibits the immigration of Chinese, Japanese, and Mongolian women for purposes of prostitution.
The Modoc War, an armed conflict between the Native American tribe and the U.S. Army, begins when, at Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California's Siskiyou County, 52 Modoc warriors hold off over 1,000 U.S. troops for five months. It marks the last of the Indian Wars in both California and Oregon.
California senator A.A. Sargeant introduces the first federal amendment to grant women the right to vote.
Strong anti-Chinese feelings in the West lead to the federal Chinese Exclusion Act, which bans Chinese immigration of laborers for ten years. It is renewed two more times, in 1892 and 1902, and finally repealed in 1943.
California orange growers ship their first trainload of fruit from Los Angeles. Today the state's orange production is second only to Florida's.
With the efforts of conservationist John Muir and Century magazine editor Robert Underwood Johnson, Congress establishes Yosemite National Park, which is run by the U.S. Army until 1916. Today, more than 3.5 million people visit the park annually.
One hundred eighty-two charter members found the environmental conservation non-profit Sierra Club, with naturalist John Muir as president. In its first conservation effort, it leads a campaign to defeat a proposed reduction in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. In the 21st century, it will remain one of the most powerful conservation groups in the United States.
The California suffrage amendment is defeated statewide, although it does pass in Los Angeles.
1900–1929 EARLY 20TH CENTURY
At 5:12a.m. an earthquake measuring roughly 8.2 on the Richter scale rocks the Bay Area, destroying 28,000 buildings in San Francisco and leveling 498 blocks. More than 3,000 are killed, and one quarter of the city is burned in the resulting inferno. As a result, over the next century the West Coast center of trade, industry, and population growth will move from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The Bay Area's Angel Island opens. For the next 30 years it will serve as a point entry for U.S. immigrants and a prison for hundreds of Chinese immigrants who are denied entry.
California passes an amendment giving women the right to vote. It is the sixth state to pass a suffrage law.
(May 19) California's Webb Alien Land-Holding Bill, which forbids Japanese immigrants from owning land, is signed.
(May 22) Mount Lassen in the Shasta Cascade region erupts, raining ash as far away as 200 miles eastward. It continues to send up volcanic debris through 1921.
(November 1) California ratifies the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst begins construction of his 150-room mansion at San Simeon along the Monterey coast. It will become known as Hearst Castle. Construction will continue until 1947, four years before Hearst's death. Ten years later the Hearst Corporation will donate the property to the state of California, and it will become a major tourist attraction.
Walter Knott rents a berry patch in Buena Park that he turns into a family attraction called Knott's Berry Place. The farm will later develop the "boysenberry," naming it after a superintendent who crossed blackberry, raspberry, and loganberry plants.
The 450-foot long, 45-foot tall "Hollywoodland" sign is built on Mount Lee as a promotion for the Hollywoodland subdivision. In 1949 the "land" will be dropped; the sign will become a historical monument in 1973.
1930–1949 THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND WORLD WAR II
(August 11) The U.S. government opens a maximum-security prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The facility, used since 1859 as a military prison, is redesigned as a penitentiary for the "most dangerous" prisoners. Known as "The Rock," it develops a notorious reputation for inmate prison conditions and inspires numerous storied escape attempts. The prison will close in 1963 and later open its doors to tourists.
(May 27) The Golden Gate Bridge linking San Francisco with Marin County to the north is completed. The world's longest suspension bridge at the time, it will become known the world over as one of the most well-known, iconic symbols of California.
The first Hewlett-Packard factory is built in what's now known as Silicon Valley, the epicenter of the high-tech boom of the coming decades.
1950–PRESENT MODERN CALIFORNIA
Walt Disney announces plans to build a $9 million theme park on 160 acres in Orange County. Disneyland opens the following year.
Free Speech movement, Berkeley. Students insist the University of California at Berkeley lift a ban on campus political activities and acknowledge students' rights to free speech and academic freedom.
Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton found the Black Panther Party in Oakland to rally for the protection of African-American neighborhoods from police brutality. The organization will remain active in the Black Power movement into the 1970s.
San Francisco mayor George Moscone and city supervisor and gay rights activist Harvey Milk are shot and killed by former Supervisor Dan White in City Hall. A jury later convicts White of manslaughter, not murder, in part due to the infamous "Twinkie defense," which argues that White's depressive state caused him to go from being health-conscious to consuming junk food. The nickname becomes an epithet used to describe any improbable judicial defense.
During the warm-up for the third game of the 1989 World Series, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hits the Bay Area along the San Andreas Fault. Portions of the Nimitz Freeway and Bay Bridge collapse, killing 43 people.
Race riots erupt in Los Angeles when a jury acquits four police officers of the videotaped beating of African-American Rodney King. Thousands of people riot over six days, leading to damages of $1 billion.
California becomes the first state to elect two women to the U.S. Senate, Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
The California electricity crisis, a result of deregulation, causes rolling blackouts and "brownouts" across the state.
(October 7) California's first-ever gubernatorial recall election results in Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected governor, ousting incumbent Democrat Gray Davis.
Click to enlarge an image
25,000 BCE: Replica of Mammoth
1542: Catalina Island
1579: Sir Francis Drake
1776: Present-day coat of arms of Sonora, Mexico
1777: Distribution of Native American languages near Mission San Juan Capistrano
1777: Mission San Juan Capistrano during a neglected period. The mission has since been restored.
1813: The Farallon Islands, now a wildlife refuge
1821: Mission Santa Cruz
1823: Mission San Francisco de Solano de Sonoma
1826: Jedediah Smith
1839: Captain John Sutter
1839: Sutter's Mill
1846: Standard of the Bear Flag Revolt
1846: Donner Pass
1851: Governor Peter Burnette
1852: Chinese Railroad Laborers
1859: Member Certificate of the Sam Yup Association
1872: Aftermath of the Modoc War
1890: El Capitan in Yosemite National Park
1890: John Muir
1915: Mt. Lassen Eruption
1910: Map of Angel Island for visitors to the present-day state park
1919: The Neptune Pool, one of many architectural marvels at Hearst Castle
1923: Hollywoodland Sign after "land" is removed from the end
1937: Golden Gate Bridge
1942: Hewlett-Packard's starting place, a garage in the orchard-filled Santa Clara Valley 1987: San Francisco Mayor George Moscone