At about the time Sam Brannan set off gold fever in San Francisco on May 12, 1848, running through the streets and shouting "Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!" a ship from Hamburg docked at Philadelphia's Delaware River wharf and unloaded a cluster of Guggenheims. The gold strike was a fitting harbinger of the great economic and political upheavals America would endure in the following decades en route to becoming an industrial behemoth. And gold was a fitting metaphor for a landscape ripe for fortunes to be made. The patriarch of the Guggenheims, Simon, settled his brood in Philadelphia and became a peddler of notions. He was joined by his son Meyer -- born Feb. 1, 1828, in Langnau, Switzerland -- who covered Pennsylvania's gloomy anthracite region. Meyer's best-sellers were coffee essence, a precursor of instant coffee, stove polish, a paste to cover up rust and scratches on the ubiquitous coal-burning iron stoves of the time, and lye.