GOLD RUSH: PROFILE

Domenico Ghirardelli
Domenico Ghirardelli

Some of those who flocked to California 150 years ago made their fortunes in gold. Domenico "Domingo" Ghirardelli made his in chocolate. Born in 1817 near Genoa, in what's now Italy, Ghirardelli learned the confectionary trade as a young man. At the age of 20, he immigrated to Uruguay, then Peru, intending to set up a chocolate empire in South America.

But when news of the gold strike filtered its way south, Ghirardelli sailed for San Francisco. After trying and failing at mining, Ghirardelli opened a store in the booming town of Hornitos, in Mariposa County, then opened a second store in Stockton. Soon he had a fleet of supply sloops that carried goods from San Francisco to his stores. He built a hotel in San Francisco and was on his way to a fortune when fire destroyed two of his stores and nearly all of his goods.

Nearly wiped out financially, Ghirardelli went back to his candy roots in 1852. By 1856, he had opened two confectionary stores in San Francisco. They were followed by construction of a large factory, also in the city, from which he shipped chocolate products throughout the United States, and to Mexico and British Columbia. He died in 1894, leaving behind perhaps the sweetest legacy of any Gold Rush figure.