• Born in Kansas in 1920
• Moved to Haines, Alaska in 1932
• Served in the US Army Air Corps 1941-1946
• Purchased Big Nugget Mine in 1984 and became a successful gold miner
• Appeared as a reality star in Discovery TV show “Gold Rush” from 2010-2016 with an estimated $5 million net worth

Known for movies

Short Info

Net Worth$5 million
Date Of BirthFebruary 11, 1920
DiedMarch 18, 2016, Oakland, California, United States
SpouseErma Dire

Who was John Schnabel?

Born under the air sign of Aquarius, on 11 February 1920, in Kansas, USA, John Schnabel was an actor, entrepreneur, miner and reality TV star. He is best known for his role in the hit Discovery TV show “Gold Rush”, depicting several families as they work hard to find gold in the rivers and streams of Alaska, USA. The series is one of the staples of Discovery Channel, and John was the centerpiece. In addition to his mining endeavors, he was also a pilot at the end of World War II. An avid bridge player, he competed in several national tournaments, with great success. Sadly, on 18 March 2016, John passed away from congestive heart failure in Oakland, California – he was 96 years-old.

This is what 95 looks like!! Happy Birthday, John!!

Posted by John Schnabel on Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Early Life: Growing Up in Kansas

John was born into an American family in rural Kansas; his father owned a large wheat farm, on which John began helping him at an early age. There is no conclusive information about his mother, but it’s highly likely that she was a housewife. In the 1920s, the entire Midwest region of the US was struck by the Great Depression – people were losing their jobs, and John and his parents were on the brink of survival. They lost the farm, so his father decided to produce moonshine, an illegal form of whiskey made out of corn mash, so that they could make ends meet. The Prohibition period, during which all alcohol was outlawed, lasted from 1920 to 1933 and farmers like John’s father were constantly targeted by the Federal Government. Eventually, they were onto him, so he was forced to flee to Haines, Alaska in 1932, and young John was left to take care of his mother all by himself, which forced him to mature much earlier than the majority of his peers.

Independence: First Job, Relocation and Service in the Army

At the age of 12, John got a job as a paper boy. Using his first salary, he bought his mother a loaf of bread and a block of cheese, which at the time, was considered luxurious due to widespread poverty. John also worked several odd jobs to make ends meet, and save some money for the future. In 1939, he decided to follow his father’s footsteps and move to Alaska, and on 10 March 1939, he reached the town of Haines on a steamship. During the seven years they hadn’t seen each other, his father had founded and began operating a sawmill, so John joined the family business immediately. Everything was going well until World War II broke up. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he joined the US Army Air Corps, andserved from 1941 to 1946 as a pilot and plane mechanic. Given the fact that he was just 26 years-old, this was a big shock to him, and caused him to reconsider his choices in life.

John Schnabel

Later Life: Purchasing Big Nugget Mine and Becoming a Famous Gold Miner

In the early 1980s, John had to undergo triple-bypass surgery. This happened due to years of stress and a lack of physical activity. His doctor strongly advised him to walk and exercise if he wanted to stay alive. Taking this advice seriously, John began informing himself about land in rural parts of the US. In 1984, he decided to buy property in Porcupine Creek, Alaska. Initially, he used the land to take his five children and many more grandchildren there during the summer, however, as time went on, John wanted to see what he could accomplish with mining, and so launched the now-legendary Big Nugget Mine and started mining gold. It turns out the area was filled with tons of gold, allowing John to earn a lot of money in the later years of his life. He became renowned for his intuition, with several instances of him finding as much as five ounces of gold on the property in just one day. What started as a way to stay in shape turned into a successful business venture, and John was ready to capitalize on it.

Gold Rush

In 2009, Discovery Channel approached Schnabel and his family with an idea for a reality show. The concept involved several other families and gold mining teams, with the focus being mining as much gold as possible during a 12-months span. John loved the notion of showing the world how his business worked, and gladly accepted the offer; thus in 2010, “Gold Rush” was born. It turned John from a successful businessman into a global TV star. Fans loved the fact that he was so humble and soft-spoken, but also fiercely competitive and intuitive when it came to making important business decisions. The show is still running, and is currently at nine seasons, with a whopping total of 212 episodes. During Season Two, John had a heart attack, but managed to survive, but in 2013 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which prompted him to hand over the reins of Big Nugget Mine to his grandson, Parker Schnabel.

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Mining certainly won't be the same anymore.

A post shared by Parker Schnabel (@goldrushparker) on

Last Years and Death: An Eternal Legacy

Even though John’s health was rapidly deteriorating, he was still involved with the show. Parker once said: ‘Even though I was running the mine, grandpa would call me every day and give me valuable advice about how to run the business. He was an amazing man’. During Season Four in 2014, we could still see John appearing on the show from time to time, with his iconic smile and sense of humor. Sadly, old age caught up to him, and he passed away in his sleep on 18 March 2016, survived by his wife Erma Dire, who he had married in 1950, their five children and numerous grandchildren. His life and legacy were honored during a special episode of Gold Rush called “Remembering John Schnabel”. His entire family, team members and former rivals paid homage to a man who lived an exciting life, and inspired millions around the globe.

What Was John Schnabel’s Net Worth?

According to several authoritative sources. John Schnabel had a net worth of approximately $5 million in early 2016, at the time of his death. He managed to amass this amount through clever business decisions, with profits ranging in millions of dollars on a yearly basis. His story inspired many current mine owners to buy properties in Alaska, and take their chances with placer gold mining in the region.

General Info

Full NameJohn Schnabel
Net Worth$5 million
Date Of BirthFebruary 11, 1920
DiedMarch 18, 2016, Oakland, California, United States
ProfessionTV Personality, Miner, Soldier


SpouseErma Dire
ChildrenRoger Schnabel
SiblingsMary Schnabel, Margaret Schnabel


TV ShowsGold Rush

Social profile links



Gold Fever2013TV Mini-Series documentary special thanks - 4 episodes


Gold Rush: Alaska2011-2016TV SeriesHimself / Himself - Parker's Grandfather
Gold Rush: The Dirt2013-2015TV SeriesHimself
Gold Rush: South America2013TV SeriesHimself

Archive Footage

Gold Rush: Parker's Trail2017TV Mini-SeriesHimself
Gold Rush: Alaska2011-2016TV SeriesHimself

Source: IMDb, Wikipedia

Benjy is currently a reporter for BiographyPedia based in Adelaide, Australia. Prior to joining BiographyPedia in July 2019, he was a Bizarre TV reporter and theatre critic at TheSun. Benjy has also written for DailyMail and TMZ. Benjy studied journalism at Goldsmiths University of London, graduating in 2009. You can contact him at [email protected].

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