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History of Gold

"Get gold, humanely if you can, but all hazards, get gold." - King Ferdinand of Spain, 1511

History of Gold

With this simple directive, King Ferdinand of Spain sent hordes of conquistadors west in pursuit of gold. The most famous of the conquistadors, Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizzaro, wiped out the Aztec and Inca civilizations for their riches.

Countless battles have been fought in pursuit of gold, but its impact on human history is not limited to war. Gold has been a source of inspiration throughout history. The Ancient Egyptians considered gold to be a divine metal. Greek myths - from the greed of King Midas to Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece - centered on gold.

Gold's prominence in human culture cannot be understated.

In 4,000 B.C., a long-forgotten civilization in Eastern Europe began forging decorative objects out of gold. More than 6,000 years later, people still fashion gold into jewelry.

For centuries, alchemists tried in vain to transform common metals into gold. Along the way, they made a number of world-changing discoveries, from distillation and metallurgy to gunpowder.

Beyond its impact on human culture and society, gold is perhaps the most significant currency in our history.

Three thousand years ago, the Chinese traded little squares of gold as legal tender. Long after the fall of the Roman Empire, its gold coins still circulated the globe. In times of financial duress, people flock to the security of gold.

Like all forms of currency, gold is subject to occasional fluctuations in value. But unlike fiat currencies (paper currencies which derive their value solely from the government issuing them), the intrinsic value of gold ensures that it will always retain some of its value. All fiat currencies eventually fail. Gold never will.

The following timeline is a brief outline of the path gold has carved through history.

• 4000 B.C. A civilization in what is today Eastern Europe begins fashioning decorative objects out of gold.

• 2500 B.C. Gold jewelry is buried in the Tomb of Djer, king of the First Egyptian Dynasty.

• 1500 B.C. Gold becomes the recognized standard medium of exchange for international trade. Large gold deposits in Nubia make Egypt a wealthy nation.

• 1091 B.C. Little squares of gold become legal tender in China.

• 300 B.C. The first alchemists begin trying to turn base metals into gold. This practice continues in vain for hundreds of years, although many scientific discoveries are made in the process.

• 1250 A.D. - 1299 A.D. Marco Polo describes the Far East as a place of "[almost unlimited] gold wealth."

• 1284 A.D. Venice mints the gold Ducat, which will become the world's most popular coin for more than 500 years.

• 1377 A.D. Great Britain shifts to a gold- and silver-based monetary system.

• 1700 A.D. Gold is discovered in Brazil. Twenty years later, the country is producing two-thirds of the world's gold output.

• 1799 A.D. A 17-pound gold nugget is found in North Carolina. The discovery is the first documented of its kind in the United States.

• 1816 A.D. Great Britain officially pegs the pound to a specific quantity of gold.

• 1848 A.D. The California Gold Rush begins after a settler finds flakes of gold in a river while building a saw mill near Sacramento.

• 1873 A.D. The United States unofficially goes on a gold standard.

• 1885 A.D. While digging up stones to build a house near Johannesburg, an Australian miner finds gold ore. Miners flock to the region, and South Africa soon begins to supply 40 percent of the world's gold.

• 1898 A.D. Prospectors in Alaska discover gold while fishing, spawning the last gold rush of the century.

• 1900 A.D. The Gold Standard Act officially places the United States on the gold standard, requiring the country to maintain a fixed exchange rate relative to other countries on the gold standard.

• 1913 A.D. The Federal Reserve Act stipulates that 40 percent of each Federal Reserve Note must be backed by gold.

• 1931 A.D. Great Britain abandons the gold bullion standard.

• 1933 A.D. To alleviate panic about the solvency of U.S. banks, President Franklin D. Roosevelt prohibits private holdings of all gold coins, bullions and certificates.

• 1934 A.D. The Gold Reserve Act of 1934 halts the minting of gold coins and gives the government exclusive right to all monetary gold. It also prohibits any person or entity besides the Federal Reserve Banks from owning gold.

• 1945 A.D. The U.S. Congress ratifies the Bretton Woods agreement, establishing a gold exchange standard, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

• 1961 A.D. Americans are prohibited from owning gold abroad or in the United States.

• 1967 A.D. South Africa mints the gold Krugerrand, a one-ounce gold bullion coin that fast becomes a favorite of investors.

• 1971 A.D. U.S. President Richard Nixon abandons the gold standard, returning the global economy to its present day system of floating exchange rates.

• 1974 A.D. Americans regain the right to own gold.

• 1975 A.D. The gold Krugerrand is made available to American investors.

• 1987 A.D. World stock markets flounder on October 19, triggering increased interest in gold.

• 2009 A.D. Central banks begin buying gold again for the first time in two decades.

• 2010 A.D. Gold prices skyrocket to record highs as a series of financial crises saps investor confidence in fiat currencies.