Each state in the USA has a capital, but have you ever wondered how exactly each capital came to be the lucky, chosen city? I mean, there must be some reason why Utah gets Salt Lake City, why Colorado gets Denver, and why Washington gets Olympia?
Or take California for example. Of all the great cities in California – San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles (just to name a few) – why Sacramento?
That’s no knock on Sacramento. It’s a great city in its own right. But why is Sacramento the capital of California?
The Capital of California
According to the California State Capitol Museum, Sacramento became the official capital of California in 1854. The decision to make Sacramento the capital did not come without a fight, however. Oakland, San Jose, Berkeley and Monterey all tried (unsuccessfully) to get the coveted capital city title in the following years.
The ultimate decision to make Sacramento the capital of California – although initially met with resistance – came down to three primary reasons: gold, people, and location. To better understand how these three factors led to Sacramento cementing itself as the capital of California, we have to look back at the rich history of the city, which is old as the state of California itself.
History of Sacramento
John Sutter settled the area that is now Sacramento in 1839, establishing it with a fort to facilitate trading and military activity. He went on to build other resources, including mills in the nearby foothills. It was in one of these mills where an employee of Sutter discovered gold.
With the discovery of gold, the city of Sacramento was quickly incorporated and became the heart of the gold rush. It served as a major distribution center due to its location and proximity to San Francisco.
With the gold rush and influx of wealth, Sacramento had become an obvious destination point for new settlers who swarmed upon California in the hopes of getting rich. With this, the city started to grow, bringing in more services and entrepreneurs. This, in turn, gave the city a strong economic base, and helped lure in powerful people. Bring the money and the people will follow! And so will the government.
Many influential people in the country already called Sacramento home. They helped to facilitate the development of infrastructure. Street grids were completed, buildings were erected, and within a few years, the state government was located in Sacramento.
As the USA continued to grow, California saw many cities, especially those located on the ocean, surpass it in size and economic importance. However, Sacramento’s landlocked location actually proved to be beneficial in the fight to remain as California’s capital. Since it was not on the water, it was not an easy target for invasion like other coastal cities. At the same time, Sacramento’s proximity to rivers that led to San Francisco and other ports allowed the city to partake in economic activities both on land and at sea.
Today, Sacramento has been able to hold onto its position as the capital of California.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.