W.O. Carpenter and the California Gold Rush: The making of entrepreneurial opportunities

Gary M. Fleischman, Roland E. Kidwell, Linda Achey Kidwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to trace the entrepreneurial opportunity identification process of William Oscar Carpenter (WOC), a nineteenth century farmer, who went to California in 1850 to make his fortune in gold mining and ended up starting several new business ventures. The paper seeks to recount WOC's experiences and then apply them to similar issues faced by entrepreneurs in a modern-day developing economy. Design/methodology/approach: Using qualitative inquiry through archival research, the paper examines a compilation of WOC's letters to his future wife in New York. The letters provide a detailed account of the hardships and poor living conditions faced by gold seekers. The letters are examined and interpreted in the context of opportunity identification and the California Gold Rush, then applied to contemporary entrepreneurs. Findings: WOC's letters elucidate the difficulties encountered making the trip from the East Coast to California, give later generations an historical viewpoint on a variety of social issues, and detail WOC's entrepreneurial activities in California. After a brief period as a successful miner, WOC's business career developed and branched out in different directions as he perceived entrepreneurial opportunities associated with the California Gold Rush. His story is an excellent example of opportunity recognition that has implications for current entrepreneurial activity. Originality/value: WOC's awareness, anticipation, and timely action regarding business opportunity can be related, compared and contrasted with entrepreneurial activity today. The paper discusses these implications in light of opportunity recognition research and developing entrepreneurial economies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-266
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Management History
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008


  • Entrepreneurs
  • Gold
  • History
  • Mining
  • United States of America


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