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Title: Boomtown  
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Subject: William F. Holcomb, Holden/Marolt Mining and Ranching Museum, Cincinnati, Billy Clanton, Athabasca oil sands
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Ornamental oil derricks in Kilgore, Texas, United States

A boomtown is a community that experiences sudden and rapid population and economic growth. The growth is normally attributed to the nearby discovery of a precious resources such as gold, silver, or oil, although the term can also be applied to communities growing very rapidly for different reasons, such as a proximity to a major metropolitan area, huge construction project, attractive climate, or popular attraction such as the gold rush.

First boomtowns

California experienced a massive influx of gold prospectors during the Gold Rush of 1849.

Early boomtowns, such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, experienced a dramatic surge in population and economic activity during the Industrial revolution at the turn of the 19th century. In pre-industrial England these towns had been relative backwaters, compared to the more important market-towns of Norwich, Bristol and York, but they soon became major urban and industrial centres. Although these boomtowns didn't directly owe their sudden growth to the discovery of a local natural resource, the factories were set up there to take advantage of the excellent Midlands infrastructure and the availability of large seams of cheap coal for fuel.[1]

In the mid-nineteenth century, resource boom-towns began to proliferate as companies and individuals discovered new mining prospects across the world. The California Gold Rush of the Western United States is a famous example of a boomtown from that period, as towns would seemingly sprout up in the river valleys, mountains and deserts around what was thought to be valuable gold mining country. In the late 19th century and the early 20th century boomtowns called mill towns would quickly arise due to sudden expansions in the timber industry that would last for a decade or so. Fort McMurray in Canada is a modern-day example of a resource-generated boomtown, as extraction of nearby oilsands requires a vast number of employees. A second modern example is Johannesburg in South Africa.


Boomtowns are typically characterized as "overnight expansions" in both population and money as people stream into the community for high-paying jobs, mining prospects, attractive amenities or climate, or other opportunities. Typically, newcomers are drawn by high salaries; meanwhile, numerous indirect businesses develop to cater to workers often eager to spend their large paychecks. Often, boomtowns are the site of both economic prosperity and social disruption as the local culture and infrastructure struggles to accommodate the waves of new residents. General problems associated with this fast growth can include: doctor shortages, inadequate medical and/or educational facilities, housing shortages, sewage disposal problems, and a lack of recreational activities for new residents.[2]

The University of Denver separates problems associated with a mining-specific boomtown into 3 categories: 1) deteriorating quality of life, as growth in basic industry outruns the local service sector’s ability to provide housing, health services, schooling, retailing and urban services; 2) declining industrial productivity in mining because of labor turnover, labor shortages, and declining productivity; and 3) an underserving by the local service sector in goods and services because capital investment in this sector does not build up adequately.[2][3] The initial increasing population in Perth, Australia (considered to be a modern-day boomtown) gave rise to overcrowding of residential accommodation as well as squatter populations.[4] “The real future of Perth is not in Perth’s hands but in Melbourne and London where Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton run their organizations”, indicating that some boomtowns’ growth and sustainability are controlled by an outside entity.[4] The biggest boom town is in North Dakota.

Boomtowns are typically extremely dependent on the single activity or resource that is causing the boom (e.g. nearby mine, mill or resort), and when the resources are depleted or the resource economy undergoes a “bust” (e.g. catastrophic resource price collapse), boomtowns can often decrease in size as fast as they initially grew. Sometimes, all or nearly the entire population can desert the town, resulting in a ghost town.

This can often be on a planned basis. Mining companies nowadays will create a temporary community to service a mine-site, building all the accommodation shops and services, and then remove it as the resource is worked out.

Examples of boomtowns


"Canvas Town" – South Melbourne, Victoria. Temporary accommodation for the thousands who poured into Melbourne each week in the early 1850s during the Victorian gold rush.



United Kingdom

United States

San Francisco in 1851, during the heyday of the California gold rush.



  1. ^ Boomtown Manchester 1800-1850, Ann Brooks and Bryan Haworth, Portico Library, Manchester, 1993.
  2. ^ a b Case Studies on Energy Impacts, No. 2, Controlling Boomtown Development, 1976.
  3. ^ Boomtown Growth Management, Mary K. Duff and John S. Gilmore, The University of Denver Research Institute, 1975.
  4. ^ a b Boomtown 2050, Richard Weller, 2009.
  5. ^ "Guide to Natural Areas in Northern Illinois". Rockford, IL: Natural Land Institute. March 2008. Retrieved 2 August 2012. 

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