George Hearst (1820-1891)

George Hearst, Prospector, Mine Owner & U.S. Senator from California

Associated Houses

Bourn-Hearst House

San Francisco

1400 New Hampshire Avenue

Washington D.C.

He was born in a log cabin on his father's 800-acre farm near Sullivan, Missouri. His father struggled to make ends meet but his grandfather was an Irishman who came from South Carolina via Illinois to Missouri and died as one of the wealthiest men in Meramec Township. George had no formal education but from a young age became interested in mining, observing local mines and teaching himself basic mineralogy. After his father died in 1848, his mother remarried Judge Funk and in 1850 George quit the farm and went with the Gold Rush to California. By 1859, he was making a comfortable living as a prospector in quartz and had a small farm in the Nevada Valley with a general store and livestock. That year, he got wind of some good quality silver and bought a one-sixth share in the Ophir Mine in the Utah Territory. The profit made in their first year sparked the Silver Rush to Comstock Lode, and he was quick to invest.

His financial success in Comstock Lode allowed him to buy 3,000-acres of mining land in South Dakota on which he then discovered the largest gold vein ever found in the United States. The Homestake Gold Mine produced a profit of $4 million a year and his luck continued when he discovered the world’s richest vein of copper in Montana. His company became the largest private mining firm in the United States and with it he acquired the reputation of being the most knowledgeable prospector and judge of mining property on the Pacific Coast. His fortune continued to grow as he built railroads and invested in vast swathes of land; and, though the Financial Panic of 1873 might have outstretched him, his investment in the rich Ontario Silver Mine in Utah carried him through with ease.

He was elected to the California State Assembly as a Democrat in 1864 and though he was unsuccessful in his bid to be Governor of California in 1882, two years later he went to Washington as the U.S. Senator from California. In 1862, he married his distant cousin, Phoebe, who was 20-years his junior and they had one child, William Randolph Hearst.

George and Phoebe lived in San Francisco and kept a modest house on his 250,000-acre estate at San Simeon where his son would later build Hearst Castle. He owned a ranch of over a million acres in Mexico and another in California where his widow completed the Hacienda del Pozo de Verona. In Washington they lived at 1400 New Hampshire Avenue. According to Nevada Senator William M. Stewart, “(George) had a vein of humor which amused and fascinated the learned as well as the illiterate. He was at home with men of all conditions." He died leaving his wife as sole heir to his $19 million fortune.  
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 12/03/2019 and last updated on 29/03/2020.