It was a Swiss-German settler, John Sutter, who is credited with setting off the California gold rush of 1849.

This content was published on February 2, 2009 - 15:50

But it was not only the gold rush that made California a magnet for Asians and Europeans, including many Ticinesi.

Liberal laws such as the Homestead Act of 1862 simplified land purchases, and irrigation and new varieties of grain contributed to the growth of agriculture.

While only a couple of thousand Ticinesi had settled in California by 1880, the numbers increased ten fold over the next few decades, aided by the completion of the railway in the mid 1880s.

Immigration agencies often promoted California's cheap land, rich soil, long growing season, abundant water and good climate.

Most of the Italian-speaking Swiss settled in and around San Francisco, the Coast Ranges or the Central Valley.

They began as labourers, often working as dairy hands on farms owned by the Swiss-Italians who preceded them.

They paid around $40 for the journey from Le Havre, France to New York or San Francisco but it was not unusual for the steerage to be paid for by the Ticinesi landholders in California, who preferred to recruit their workforce from their home villages.

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