In August of 1896, on a small branch of the remote Klondike river, three men discovered what would prove to be the largest concentration of gold ever found. Several hundred miners were quick to make claims and share in the discovery. Winter set in, closing all routes to and from the Klondike region -- the world would not find out about the big strike for months. Two steamships brought the prospectors south in the summer of 1897. One, called the SS Portland, landed in Seattle on July 17th. A front page story in a Seattle newspaper told of "more than a ton of gold" aboard the Portland, divided among 68 miners. The story was quickly relayed around the world by telegraph and mail.
Thousands of men (and women) dropped everything to book passage north to Alaska and the Klondike -- gold fever swept across the world, radiating in every direction from America's Pacific Northwest. Hundreds of thousands started for the Klondike, but most made it only part of the way. The 30,000 who did make it to Dawson City, near the strike, found little gold. Hardship and disappointment marked the journey of most gold rushers.
Of the few who did strike it rich, some returned to their homes and established businesses that exist to this day. Fewer than a hundred men retained their wealth for any length of time. The most substantial legacy of the Klondike Gold Rush is its story. Immortalized in poetry, songs, books and movies, the story of the gold rush became an American epic. Adventure, drama, dreams of wealth, tragedy and triumph all rolled into one massive push northward.