In the century preceding World War I, the world experienced a series of gold rushes. The wealth derived from these was distributed widely because of reduced migration costs and low barriers to entry. While gold mining itself was generally unprofitable for diggers and mine owners, the increase in the world's gold supply stimulated global trade and investment. In this introductory article we integrate the histories of migration, trade, colonisation, and environmental history to identify endogenous factors that increased the world's gold supply and generated sustained economic growth in the regions that were affected by gold rushes. Copyright 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd and the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand 2010.