The French have Landed on the Shores of Santa Rosalia or; How the Second Industrial Revolution, Porfirian "Progress" and the Rothschilds Brought Baja California Sur Into the "Modern" World

Dennis Kortheuer
University of California, Irvine

During the closing decades of the nineteenth-century, capitalists and the world capitalist system experienced increased instability and economic crises. This was also the period known as the "Second Industrial Revolution," thus called because of the revolutionary changes in technologies brought about by the ability to harness electricity and the invention of the internal combustion engine. The growth in industrialization created sudden surges in demand for resources, leading to highly volatile commodity markets. A particularly illustrative example of this process came with the implementation of electricity and the explosive increase in the demand for copper, the primary choice for making wire used in both the creation and conduction of electrical current. Copper, along with gold one of the oldest metals known to humankind, acquired a radical change in importance. Another change in the last third of the nineteenth-century was the ascension to power in Mexico of a national government which was able to survive and remain in power for over thirty years after more than fifty years of turmoil, instability and constant changes of government. This period of Mexico's history, known as the Porfiriatio for the man who was president during all but four years of the period, Porfirio Diaz, was one of policies and programs to centralize, "modernize," and bring "progress" to the nation. All of these factors came together to set the stage for investment by the world's leading banking family in the desert of Mexico's northern frontier. In this essay, based on archival work for my dissertation, I argue that the fears and instabilities of the world copper market in the 1870s and 1880s; the desires of the Rothschild banking interests, spearheaded in this instance by the Paris branch, to expand their investments in the industrial sphere while also ensuring as much as possible that those investments would guarantee a profit in a volatile commodities market; and the policies of the Porfirian government of Mexico to encourage foreign investment in mining, the nation's historically most important export industry, all led to the creation of what became Mexico's most productive copper mine for the duration of the nineteenth-century. The El Boleo mine in Santa Rosalia, Baja California Sur quickly became not only Mexico's largest copper mine but also the region's most important port and Baja California's largest industrial center. The mining company there was also the first major industrial venture of French capitalists outside of France or that country's colonial possessions. The Rothschild financed copper mine in the Baja California Sur frontier of Porfirian Mexico presents a window into the conjunction of the strategies of international capitalists and liberal nation building national elites in the late nineteenth-century as well as the consequences of their actions. While the Rothschilds attempted to corner the global copper market, the leadership of the Porfirian government attempted to develop their national economy, settle and secure their borderlands, and become bona fide members of the modern world. As part of this process thousands of Mexican peasants became miners, local economic, social, and political relationships were established and Mexico became a player in the global copper economy.