Sacramento (/ˌsækrəˈmɛntoʊ/ SAK-rə-MEN-toh; Spanish: [sakɾaˈmento]; Spanish for “sacrament”) is the capital city of the U.S. state of California and the seat of Sacramento County. Located at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River in Northern California‘s Sacramento Valley, Sacramento’s estimated 2018 population of 501,334 makes it the sixth-largest city in California and the ninth largest capital in the United States.
Maidu peoples were early inhabitants of the region. In the 1770s the valley was visited by Spanish explorer Pedro Fages, who named the river for the Christian religious sacraments. German-born Swiss pioneer John Sutter established the colony of Nueva Helvetia (New Switzerland) in 1839 on the site, a Mexican land grant, and beginning in 1840 built a palisaded trading post known as Sutter’s Fort (now a state historic park). His community, initially populated by fellow Swiss immigrants, prospered as an agricultural centre and as a refuge for American pioneers until the 1849 Gold Rush. It was at a sawmill that Sutter was constructing, about 35 miles (55 km) northeast on the American River, near Coloma, that his chief carpenter, James W. Marshall, found the first gold on January 24, 1848. Hordes of prospectors pillaged Sutter’s property, and, deeply in debt, he deeded his lands to his son, who laid out the present city that year.
Profiting from the mining trade, Sacramento grew rapidly and was the scene of an armed squatter’s riot over the legality of Sutter’s grant. With a population of more than 10,000 in 1854, it was chosen the state capital. In its early decades Sacramento suffered several devastating floods and fires; subsequent measures (levees and masonry construction) alleviated these problems. A hub of river transportation since Sutter started a steamer service, Sacramento was the western terminus of the Pony Express and the first California railroad (1856; the Sacramento Valley Railroad to Folsom). More significantly, four Sacramento merchants—Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Leland Stanford—financed the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. Stretching eastward from the city, it completed the country’s first transcontinental rail link when it was joined to the Union Pacific Railroad at Promontory Point, Utah, in May 1869.
After the Gold Rush heyday, Sacramento’s population grew steadily until the first decades of the 20th century, when it began to increase more rapidly. People were drawn to the region’s expanding agriculture-related industries and, from the 1940s, its military installations (now closed). The city began annexing much of the land surrounding it (including the city of North Sacramento in 1964), increasing its area sevenfold between 1940 and 2000; in that same period Sacramento’s population nearly quadrupled. Citizens of European ancestry, long the great majority of the city’s population, now constitute less than half. Hispanics represent the fastest-growing component, accounting for more than one-fifth the total; there are also significant groups of African Americans and people of Asian ancestry.
Sacramento is the centre of the region’s extensive agricultural production—primarily dairy products, poultry, beef cattle, fruits and vegetables (especially grapes, pears, and tomatoes), wheat, rice, and corn (maize). The city’s traditional economic base of government and other services and agriculture has been expanded to include electronics manufacturing, computer software production, tourism, and the manufacture of metal products and scientific instruments. Other industries include food processing (especially almonds), printing and publishing, aerospace, and the manufacture of wood products.
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