In the mid-19th century the cultural development of comic books as an art form met with another famous social phenomenon: the California "Gold Rush". On January 24, 1848 James W. Marshall had found gold near Sutter's Mill. It didn't take long for the first gold diggers to arrive in Cailfornia. Almost 300,000 people took on the hard journey during the following years, eager to make a fortune. Life as a gold digger turned out to be not only adventurous, but also full of hardship. While the first arrivals could simply pick up gold nuggets from the ground, the search soon became more difficult and whole rivers had to be "panned". As usual, only a few lucky ones made a real fortune. Most of the adventurers returned home with about as much in their pockets, as when they had set out for California in the first place. While the gold rush helped to build and improve infrasturcture – San Francisco was founded and rapidly grew into a metropolis – and create an expansive network of streets, it also helped create the first original US-"Comic Book" which was published in 1849 by Stringer & Townsend, New York: The brothers James and Donal Read told a satirical story of the gold fever in "Journey To The Gold Diggins by Jeremiah Saddlebags".
Source: More nineteenth-century comic art! (http://superitch.com/?p=16434)