National Geographic : 1933 Apr
MEN AND GOLD BY FREDERICK SIMPICH AUTHOR OF "ONTARIO, NEXT DOOR," "SMOKE OVER ALABAMA," "SO BIG TEXAS," ETC., ETC., IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE GOLD coins brought from the wreck by Robinson Crusoe were worth less to him. On his island, no body was in sight from whom he might buy. "I would give it all," Defoe made Cru soe say, "for sixpenny-worth of turnip and carrot seed out of England, or for a handful of pease and beans and a bottle of ink." But when Crusoe was rescued and could mingle again with other men, then his gold would buy anything he wanted. What a simple lesson in the power of gold! "Over a man, gold has greater power than ten thousand arguments," wrote Eu ripides. Along with his religion and love of family, man's quest for gold and his use of it as money have been prime forces in civilization. It has been the lure that led men to discovery and to conquest. Throughout history gold has been a fruit ful cause of war. Lust for gold, and the power it wields, recast Old World geography in the plun dering raids of Alexander the Great. It brought changes to Europe's map in the Punic Wars, and in the campaigns of Marius, Pompey, Paulus IEmilius, and Julius Caesar. Leaping the Atlantic in the wake of Columbus, it was again the gold fever which led the conquering hordes on those long explorations which not only wrecked and robbed the Aztec and Inca empires and slew or enslaved whole tribes of In dians, but laid the first lines of what is now the map of the Western Hemisphere.* Yet a third geographic chapter in man's world-wide gold quest dawned when the trail wove back and forth across the Pa cific, from California to Australia, back to Alaska, then away off to South Africa. Always, on the cultural map, the gold seeker left his mark. Consider California. The Forty-niners' rush to its rich placers started that western migration which was to build railways and new cities, found in dustries, and cover the West with farms, sawmills, and schoolhouses. Gold strikes, *See "The Story of the Map," in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for December, 1932. in the same way, swelled the human tide to Australia and hastened its settlement and growth. When gold mines of fabulous wealth opened in South Africa, they put the Dark Continent in the world's eye and led, in directly, to the Boer War. Cripple Creek, the Klondike, northern Ontario, now the greatest gold area in the Western World, all have had their profound effects on human progress.t GOLD AS A YARDSTICK OF TRADE When gold was used merely as personal adornment, in plate, or in the decorative arts, it swayed the destiny only of those who possessed it, as in Peru and Mexico, or when Rome paid chariot loads of it to the barbarians to save herself from being sacked. But when gold came into wide use as money, to measure wages, prices, and the cost of living in all nations, then it began to influence the whole world. Tariffs, the gold standard, foreign ex change and debts, arbitrage-gold brings them all into the picture of international relations. You think of all this when you walk through the United States Mint in Phila delphia and see the shiny new gold coins come tumbling out; or when you explore the vast, silent vaults of the Federal Re serve Bank in lower New York City, sunk far below the Hudson River level, with their stacks of gold bars and bags of coin worth billions. High above you, in the busy street, armored trucks and armed guards come and go with still more gold, the gold that is forever crossing and re crossing the oceans, the gold of Paris and London, of Tokyo and Buenos Aires. For gold is never static; incessantly it changes form and place, and yet endures. Look at your own gold watch and think. Some of its gold particles might conceiv ably have come even from the gold of t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Out in San Francisco," by Frederick Simpich, April, 1932; "Ontario, Next Door," by Frederick Simpich, August, 1932; "Under the South Afri can Union," by Melville Chater, April, 1931; and "Lonely Australia: The Unique Continent," by Herbert E. Gregory, December, 1916.