Samuel Brannan – California’s First Millionaire


Samuel Brannan

Samuel Brannon, a pioneer, businessman, journalist and prominent Mormon was California’s first millionaire

Brannon started life in Saco, Maine in 1819 before moving with his family to Ohio when he was 14 years old. He became a printer’s apprentice and in 1836 began to move around as a journeyman printer. Converting to Mormonism in 1842, he moved to New York City to help publish several Mormon newspapers. Three years later, Brannan led a group of over 200 New York Mormons to California to find a better life. Briefly, he published a San Francisco newspaper before moving on to John Sutter’s settlement, where he opened a general store. Soon; however, the Mormons accused him of diverting Mormon funds into his own business and expelled him from the church.

James Marshall at Sutter's Sawmill, Coloma, California, 1851.

James Marshall at Sutter’s Sawmill, Coloma, California, 1851.

When James Marshall discovered gold in 1848, Brannan capitalized by widely publicizing the discovery and outfitting the flood of prospectors. Before long, he became the Golden State’s first millionaire. The next year he returned to San Francisco, where he was elected to the City Council and played a leading role in organizing the controversial Committee of Vigilance. Continuing in various business ventures, including land investments, banking, and railroad and telegraph companies, his wealth continued to grow. However, Brannan was a serious drinker, which ultimately led to his loss of fortune and his death in 1889.


By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, June 2019,

Also See:

California Gold Rush

Other Characters in Frontier History

San Francisco Vigilantes

Who’s Who in American History

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