The suggestions that gold began in the Middle East were made through archeological digs. Around 3000 BC, the Egyptians had mastered the arts of beating gold into gold leaf. They were also alloying other metals with gold in order to achieve certain variations in color and hardness. In Sumeria (now Iraq), gold was used to create a wide variety of jewelry using sophisticated styles that are still being worn today.
Gold became the standard medium of exchange around 1500 BC. The regions of Nubia in Egypt were gold-bearing and made Egypt a very wealthy nation that used gold in international trade. It was also around this time when the Shekel was used as standard of measure in the Middle East. The Shekel was a gold coin weighing about 11.3 grams and contained electrum, an alloy that is naturally occurring and that contained 2/3 gold with 1/3 silver. The testing for purity of gold began with the Babylonian’s use of the fire assay around 1350 BC.
King Tutankhamen, the young Egyptian monarch, was interred in a gold laden tomb around 1352 BC. An extravagant gold sarcophagus housed his remains. The tomb was discovered in 1922.
By 1091 BC, China legalized the use of squares of gold as money. The first coins of gold were minted in a kingdom of Asia Minor called Lydia around 560 BC. And around 58BC, Julius Caesar used the gold he had seized in Gaul (now France) to repay the debts of Rome. By 50 BC started using the Aureus which is a gold coin as currency.
Italy’s Venice became the world’s leading market for gold bullion because of its location alongside trade routes around 1100 AD. Around 1284 AD, Venice gives birth to the Ducat which became the world’s most popular coin for more than 500 years. The Florin was issued by Great Britain around the same time. It was followed by the Noble, the Angel, the Crown and, finally, the Guinea.
By 1717, the London Mint’s Master Isaac Newton set a price for gold which lasted for 2 centuries. A few years later, at 1787, a goldsmith by the name of Ephraim Brasher struck the first gold coin in the US. This was followed by the US Coinage Act in 1792 creates a bimetallic silver/gold standard which defined the US dollar as 371.35 grains of fine silver and 24.75 grains of fine gold.
The first US gold rush started during 1803 and by 1850 a man called Edward H. Hargraves predicted he will find Australia and discovers the metal in New South Wales within a week. Gold was discovered in South Africa around 1886.
The extraction of gold using cyanide was patented by a chemist John S. MacArthur, and two Glasgow doctors named Robert and William Forest in 1887. In 1896, gold was discovered in Northern Canada along the Klondike River followed by greater finds in Yukon, Alaska which started the last gold rush of the century.
The 1900s saw the US adopt the gold standard for its currency. An organic medium was introduced three years later by the Engelhard Corporation to print gold onto surfaces which became the foundation for microcircuit printing.
The yellow metal was proven to be valuable in rheumatoid arthritis treatment in a French medical study in 1927. Six years later, American President F.D. Roosevelt banned gold exports, halted the dollar’s convertibility into gold, ordered all Americans to surrender all gold in their possession and set a daily price for the precious metal the following year at $35 an ounce.
This was followed by more and more discoveries of the uses of gold in many industries like telecommunications (1935), electronics (1947, the first transistor) and laser technology (1960, gold-coated mirrors). Intel introduced the first microchip that contained transistors connected by gold circuits in 1968. The following year, the Apollo 11 astronauts found themselves wearing gold coated visors.
In 1973, the US Dollar was removed from the gold standard and the price of the metal was allowed to float; followed by the end of the ban on individual ownership of the metal a year later. Gold coated CDs were introduced in 1986 and a year later, cars got airbags that used gold contacts for more reliability. In the year 1999, the Euro was introduces as the common currency which was backed by the ECB which had gold as 15% of its reserves.
Gold continues to be as coveted today as it was throughout history. This appears set to continue for many years to come.
More information on the History of Gold.