america's economic conquest in mexico -- 11/01/16

Today's selection -- from The Strange Career of William Ellis by Karl Jacoby. America's extraordinary growth during the Gilded Age brought with it an American economic conquest of Mexico:

"Nearly every facet of the United States' booming consumer economy depended upon Mexico. The growing fleet of cars rolling along US roads did so on tires composed of Mexican rubber. The electricity and telephone calls flowing into US homes and businesses utilized wires of Mexican copper. Even the rising number of processed foods aimed at the American sweet tooth relied upon Mexican ingredients, from chocolate, vanilla, and sugar to the chicle used to make chewing gum. As the 1898 study The Control of the Tropics concluded: 'If we turn at the present time to the import lists of the world and regard them carefully, it will soon become apparent to what a large extent our civilization ... draws its supplies from the tropics.'

Mexico City 1890s

"One result of this reliance on the tropics was a staggering growth in US-Mexico commerce. In 1880, annual trade between the United States and Mexico totaled $15 million; by 1910, it had multiplied more than ten times to $166 million. Not only did total cross-border exchange soar; each nation dedicated an increasing proportion of its trade to the other. Mexico persisted with its hopes of cultivat­ing European partners as a counterweight to a potentially acquisitive United States. By 1900 however, the republic's trade with the United States exceeded that with all of European countries combined; by 1912, the United States supplied 50 percent of Mexico's imports and
purchased more than 75 percent of its exports.

"This commercial expansion triggered a geographic reorganization. No longer was it solely border cities like San Antonio that were deeply entangled with affairs in Mexico. Now, involvement stretched all the way to the very epicenter of North American capitalism, New York City. Turn-of-the-century trade directories listed 122 New York City-based companies ... dealing in exports to Mexico, far more than the next leading US cities: San Francisco with fifteen and New Orleans with ten. Direct investment in Mexico was harder to measure, but as the US State Department reported in 1895: 'It is not extravagant to state that, in the last ten years, citizens of the United States have invested in Mexico, in mines, railroads, lands, and other undertakings, sums much larger in the aggregate than the whole amount of money in circulation in the [Mexican] Republic.' US consuls estimated that the amount of American capital invested in Mexico by the early 1900s ranged between $500 million and $1 billion."


Karl Jacoby


The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire


W. W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2016 by Karl Jacoby


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment