In January of 1848, James Marshall was digging a water ditch at Sutter's Fort in California when he noticed a shining metal substance. Marshall's finding sparked the largest "Gold Rush" in history. Nearly 160 years later, New York - the city that now holds the largest amount of the world's monetary gold in the Federal Reserve Bank - hosts the biggest exhibition of the precious metal. VOA's Kane Farabaugh gives us a look at "Gold" at the American Museum of Natural History.
Gold is synonymous with wealth, beauty, and status. It has aroused greed, caused suffering, and led to war and death. It has been mined, melted, and minted into many shapes, sizes, and values.
Pirates have pillaged for it, athletes have broken records for it, and musicians have strived for it.
Yet, it is so precious, so versatile, so expensive, and still so very rare that co-curator at the American Museum of Natural History James Webster says all of it that exists in the world could fit in one place.
"If that was ever accumulated, which it hasn't been, but if it was ever put together in a single mass, it would be about twenty meters on the side (square). Alternatively, another way to look at that, it would fill about sixty tractor-trailer trucks, which really is not that much material."
Gold is now a star attraction at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, profiling the connection over time between people and this precious metal.
"Societies and cultures have had this very close tie with gold for over 6,000 years, and what is interesting is, gold has been pursued for a very long time."
The pursuit of gold throughout the ages is highlighted under bright lights behind thick glass walls at the museum.
Displays range from the Boot of Cortez, which is the largest nugget ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere, to rare gold doubloons rescued from the ocean wreck of a Spanish Galleon. From ancient Turkey to modern Hollywood, gold is on display in all its forms and fashions.
More than just an exploration of historical items, there is also a science lesson here. The exhibition takes visitors through the natural processes that create one of the world's most sought after metals.
George Milling Stanley works for the World Gold Council, and was among the first to visit the exhibition. Standing in a room completely covered in gold leaf, he explained that although 78 percent of all gold that is mined becomes jewelry, the exhibition is a celebration of gold's diverse qualities and uses.
"The exhibits in this particular exhibition at the museum include the visor from the helmet that Neil Armstrong wore when he went to the moon. That looks a beautiful gold color, [but] it is not done for the beauty. It is done for the functionality," said Stanley. "It reflects the heat best, it reflects radiation best and it was the safest possible material they could use for those visors for people traveling into space. So it's that kind of thing, the fact that gold doesn't react with anything else in the environment, it is bio-inert means it has the most amazing list of medical and scientific uses that you can use to. It's those unique properties that make gold special."
The exhibit is also interactive, allowing visitors to step on the scales to find out what their weight would be worth in gold at current market prices.
"Gold" opened in November, and comes during a year in which commodity prices of the precious metal reached an all time high.
Stanley says there has been a come-back recently. "The last few years gold has come back into fashion as an investment; it has also come back into fashion -- more yellow gold for jewelry. So this is an extremely timely exhibit."
The "Gold" exhibition is on display in New York at the American Museum of Natural History near Central Park West through February 2008. The exhibit will then travel extensively throughout the United States and the world.