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Engineering inter-imperialism: American miners and the transformation of global mining, 1871–1910*

  • Stephen Tuffnell (a1)

This article examines the transnational circulation of American mine engineers between the United States, southern Africa, and the Americas in the late nineteenth century. Technology and knowledge was diffused worldwide with the circulation of American engineers who styled themselves as expert race managers as they compared the labour practices of mines across the world. The article's focus is the extension of the United States’ global footprint to South Africa, where an expatriate ‘colony’ of American engineers created a resilient form of Anglo-American inter-imperial collaboration. As they worked the Rand, American engineers made transnational comparisons of South African and North and South American mines. In the process, they led a global discussion of the efficiency of mining labour that reified white management of other races. After leaving the Rand, American engineers migrated across the globe, many to Mexico, where the interwoven networks of expert knowledge, industrial capitalism, and transnational race-making that characterized late nineteenth-century global mining followed.

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For their careful reading, critical insights, and advice, the author would like to thank Jay Sexton, Pekka Hämäläinen, Michelle Hay, and the editors and anonymous readers of the Journal of Global History. Helpful audiences at the University of Oxford, the British American Nineteenth Century Historians Conference at Rice University, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations annual meeting shaped early versions of this article. The British Academy's Postdoctoral Research Fellowship provided research funding essential for its completion.

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1 See Rosenberg Emily S., ed., A world connecting, 1870–1945, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012, pp. 29285; Tyrrell Ian, Transnational nation: United States history in a global perspective since 1789, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007; Osterhammel Jürgen, The transformation of the world: a global history of the nineteenth century, Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2014; Thompson Andrew S. and Magee Gary, Empire and globalisation: networks of people, goods and capital in the British world, c.1850–1914, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

2 American missionaries are the subject of a growing literature. See especially, Tyrrell Ian, Reforming the world: the creation of America's moral empire, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010; Porter Andrew, Religion versus empire? British Protestant missionaries and overseas expansion, 1700–1914, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004. For American missions in South Africa, see Campbell James T., Songs of Zion: the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa, Chapel Hill, NC, and London: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. For agricultural reform, see Zimmerman Andrew, Alabama in Africa: Booker T. Washington, the German empire, and the globalization of the New South, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

3 Tuffnell Stephen, ‘Anglo-American inter-imperialism: US expansion and the British world, c.1865–1914’, Britain and the World, 7, 2, 2014, pp. 174–195; Kramer Paul, ‘Empires, exceptions, and Anglo-Saxons: race and rule between the British and United States empires, 1880–1910’, Journal of American History, 88, 4, 2002, pp. 1327–1330; Teisch Jessica, Engineering nature: water, development, and the global spread of American environmental expertise, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011; Curry-Machado Jonathan, ‘“Rich flames and hired tears”: sugar, sub-imperial agents, and the Cuban phoenix of empire’, Journal of Global History, 4, 1, 2009, pp. 33–56.

4 Colby Jason, The business of empire: United Fruit, race, and US expansion in Central America, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012; Conniff Michael, Black labor on a white canal: Panama, 1904–1981, Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.

5 Buchannan Robert A., ‘The diaspora of British engineering’, Technology and Culture, 27, 3, 1986, pp. 501–524; ‘The Americans in Uganda’, Review of Reviews, July 1903, p. 100; Wiley Day Allen, ‘The erection of the Gokteik bridge’, Scientific American, 17 August 1901, p. 104; ‘On American competition’, Review of Reviews, June 1899, p. 555.

6 Martinelli Phylis Cancilla, Undermining race: ethnic identities in Arizona copper camps, 1880–1920, Tuscon, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2009.

7 For works comparing race in the US South and South Africa, see Frederickson George, White supremacy: a comparative study of American and South African history, New York: Oxford University Press, 1981; Cell John, The highest stage of white supremacy: the origins of segregation in South Africa and the American South, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982; Lamar Howard and Thompson Lamar, eds., The frontier in history: North America and South Africa compared, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1981.

8 Stead William T., Americanisation of the world, or the trend of the twentieth century, London: Review of Reviews, 1902, p. 124.

9 Darwin John, The empire project: the rise and fall of the British world-system, 1830–1970, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 227.

10 Pollock N. G. and Agnew S., An historical geography of South Africa, London: Longmans, 1963, p. 177.

11 Saunders Christopher and Smith Iain R., ‘Southern Africa, 1795–1910’, in Andrew Porter, ed., Oxford history of the British empire vol. 3: the nineteenth century, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 604–605; Belich Jaes, Replenishing the earth: the settler revolution and the rise of the Anglo-world, 1783–1939, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 377.

12 Saunders and Smith, ‘Southern Africa’, p. 609.

13 Hull Richard W., American enterprise in South Africa: historical dimensions of engagement and disengagement, New York: New York University Press, 1990, p. 60.

14 Belich , Replenishing the earth, p. 380.

15 Wright Gavin, ‘Can a nation learn? American technology as a network phenomenon’, in Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Daniel M. G. Raff, and Peter Temin, eds., Learning by doing in markets, firms, and countries, Chicago, IL, and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999, p. 310; Ochs Kathleen H., ‘The rise of American mining engineers: a case study of the Colorado School of Mines’, Technology and Culture, 33, 2, 1992, pp. 278–301; Brittain James and McMath Robert, ‘Engineers and the New South creed: the formation and early development of Georgia Tech’, Technology and Culture, 18, 2, 1977, pp. 175–201.

16 Duigan Peter and Gann L. H., The United States and Africa: a history, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, p. 156.

17 Teisch , Engineering nature, pp. 98202.

18 The most complete account of the Exploration Company's role is Turrell Robert Vicat and Van Helten Jean-Jacques, ‘The Rothschilds, the Exploration Company and mining finance’, Business History, 26, 2, 1986, pp. 181–205.

19 Bancroft Library, Berkeley, Samuel Christy Papers, box 4, Hennen Jennings to Samuel Christy, 11 September 1900; box 5, Henry C. Perkins to Samuel Christy, 5 December 1890; Turrell and Van Helten, ‘Rothschilds’, p. 188.

20 Bancroft Library, Berkeley, William Hammond Hall Papers (henceforth Hall Papers), Hall to Natalie Hammond Hall, 4 December 1896.

21 Hammond John Hays, Autobiography of John Hays Hammond, New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1935, vol. 1, p. 210; Rhodes House Library, Oxford, John Hays Hammond Papers, Letterbooks (henceforth Hammond Papers), John Hays Hammond to Thomas H. Leggett, 17 May 1895; Hammond to Pope Yeatman, 27 May 1895; Bancroft Library, Berkeley, E. A. Wiltsee Papers, ‘Reminiscences’, pp. 30, 71.

22 Hall Papers, carton 6, folder 16, ‘Autobiography of an engineer’, p. 23.

23 Hammond Papers, Hammond to Richard A. Parker, 29 May 1895.

24 Hammond, Autobiography, vol. 1, p. 208; Wiltsee Papers, ‘Reminscences’, p. 48.

25 Spence Clark C., Mining engineers and the American West: the Lace-Boot Brigade, 1849–1933, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970, p. 304; Noer Thomas J., Briton, Boer, and Yankee: the United States and South Africa, Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1978, p. 23.

26 Katz Elaine, ‘The role of American mining technology and American mining engineers in the Witwatersrand gold mining industry, 1890–1910’, South African Journal of Economic History, 20, 2, 2005, pp. 62–63.

27 Burt Roger, ‘Innovation or imitation? Technological dependency in the American nonferrous mining industry’, Technology and Culture, 41, 2, 2000, pp. 321–347.

28 Katz , ‘Role of American mining technology’, pp. 6465; ‘The cyanide process a Godsend to miners’, Los Angeles Times, 23 March 1896; Teisch , Engineering nature, pp. 110111.

29 ‘In South Africa: a traveller from the Antipodes – the land's openings’, Los Angeles Times, 22 July 1896.

30 National Archives, United States, Despatches from U.S. Consuls in Cape Town, Cape Colony (henceforth Despatches from Cape Town), F. W. Roberts to T. W. Cridler, 2 April 1898, via Nineteenth Century Collections Online, (consulted 29 October 2013).

31 National Archives, United States, Despatches from U.S. Consuls in Pretoria, Transvaal (henceforth Despatches from Pretoria), Charles E. Macrum to David J. Hill, 16 April 1899, via Nineteenth Century Collections Online, (consulted 1 November 2013).

32 See Despatches from Cape Town, J. G. Stowe to Cridler, 18 December 1899.

33 Duigan and Gann, United States and Africa, pp. 164–6.

34 Campbell, Songs of Zion.

35 Engineering and Mining Journal, 3 December 1887. Similar observations were also made elsewhere: see National Geographic Magazine, November 1896; ‘South African gold: destined to become a great producer’, Los Angeles Times, 14 July 1895.

36 Despatches from Cape Town, Gardner F. Williams to Edwin F. Uhl, 6 July 1895; C. H. Knight to Uhl, 25 January 1896.

37 ‘The glorious fourth’, Cape Argus, 6 July 1897; ‘Americans in the Transvaal’, Sausalito News, 9 November 1907. For more on Independence Day celebrations in South Africa, see Despatches from Cape Town, Frank W. Roberts to William R. Day, 6 July 1897, and Stowe to Cridler, 5 July 1898; Hall Papers, box 17, folder 16, James Silverwright to William Hammond Hall, 6 July 1898; ‘The Chicago at Cape Town’, New York Times, 6 August 1899.

38 Hull , American enterprise, p. 68.

39 Despatches from Cape Town, Stowe to Cridler, 16 November 1898; Frederick Russell Burnham to Rebecca Russell Burnham, 14 June 1893; Burnham to Josiah Russell, c.September 1893, in Bradford Mary and Bradford Richard, eds., An American family on the African frontier: the Burnham family letters, 1893–1896, Niwot, CO: Roberts Reinhart, 1993, pp. 65–66, 97.

40 Hammond Papers, John Hays Hammond to Dr Frederick Rutherfoord Harris, 20 June 1894.

41 Kubicek Robert, ‘Empire and technological change’, in Porter, British empire, pp. 256257.

42 ‘Mine-owner Catlin on affairs in the Transvaal’, Los Angeles Times, 31 January 1896.

43 Noer, Briton, Boer, and Yankee, pp. 31–2; Hull, American enterprise, p. 71.

44 ‘American rolling stock for South Africa’, Scientific American, 1 December 1900, p. 343.

45 Hull , American enterprise, p. 71.

46 ‘American interests’, Los Angeles Times, 31 January 1896; Hull , American enterprise, pp. 3839.

47 Tyrrell , Transnational nation, p. 112.

48 Noer , Briton, Boer, and Yankee, p. 23.

49 ‘South African gold: destined to become a great producer’, Los Angeles Times, 14 July 1895.

50 Ibid.

51 ‘The new diamond fields’, Albion, 5 November 1870; ‘Elysium in South Africa’, New York Observer and Chronicle, 29 February 1872.

52 ‘Latest from the diamond fields’, New York Times, 4 February 1871.

53 Charles B. Going, ‘The engineer and the policy of imperialism’, Engineering Magazine, January 1899, pp. 528–9. See also Holloway J. F., ‘The growing importance of the engineer’, Engineering Magazine, April 1894, pp. 96101.

54 R. A. Buchannan, ‘Diaspora’.

55 McKay James T., ‘To South Africa for diamonds!’, Scribner's Magazine, August–September 1878, pp. 551563, 662–75.

56 Frederick Russell Burnham to Josiah Russell, 24 May 1893, in Bradford and Bradford, American family, p. 59.

57 Bigelow Poultney, White man's Africa, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1902, p. vii.

58 ‘The possible future of Africa’, New York Times, 10 August 1879.

59 ‘African slavery and civilization’, Commercial and Financial Chronicle, 5 April 1890, pp. 467–88; ‘The dark continent’, Century, 16, June 1889, pp. 313–14.

60 Hammond , Autobiography, vol. 1, p. 288.

61 Adas Michael, Machines as the measure of men: science, technology, and ideologies of Western dominance, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989, p. 275.

62 Teisch , Engineering nature, p. 103.

63 Worger William H., South Africa's city of diamonds: mine workers and monopoly capitalism in Kimberley, 1867–1895, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987, pp. 114117, 159.

64 Williams Gardner F., The diamond mines of South Africa: some account of their rise and development, London: Macmillan, 1902, p. 448.

65 Wilson Francis, Labour in the South African gold mines, 1911–1969, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972, pp. 6–7; Turrell Robert Vicat, Capital and labour on the Kimberley diamond fields, 1871–1890, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 158.

66 Twain Mark, Following the equator, New York: Library of America, 2010, p. 868.

67 Eakin Marshall C., A British enterprise in Brazil: the St. John d'el Rey Mining Company and the Morro Velho gold mine, 1830–1960, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989, pp. 201–205.

68 Kitto, quoted in Turrell, Capital and labour, p. 98.

69 Harrington Fred Harvey, God, mammon, and the Japanese: Dr. Horace N. Allen and Korean–American relations, 1884–1905, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1944, pp. 161164.

70 Mels Edgar, ‘The future of South Africa – I’, Scientific American, 25 November 1899, p. 342.

71 Redfield Casper L., ‘Industrial ascendancy of the Anglo-American peoples’, Engineering Magazine, February, 1901, p. 850.

72 Ibid., p. 852.

73 See, for instance, C. S. Herzig, ‘The handling of colored labor’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 2 June 1906, pp. 1055–7.

74 Transactions of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, Incorporated, 66, 1922, p. 821.

75 The other Americans at the commission were his brother Sydney, Louis Irving Seymour, Thomas Leggett, and William Hammond Hall.

76 Witwatersrand Chamber of Mines, The mining industry, evidence and report of the industrial commission of inquiry, Johannesburg, 1897, p. 219.

77 Ibid., p. 219.

78 Ibid., p. 230.

79 Ibid., pp. 44, 219, 241.

80 Davis Alexander, The native problem in South Africa, London: Chapman & Hall, 1903, p. 124.

81 Cell , Highest stage, pp. 67–68; Johnstone Frederick A., Class, race, and gold: a study of class relations and racial discrimination in South Africa, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976, pp. 26–49.

82 Hall Papers, carton 7, folder 23, ‘Mr. W. Ham. Hall's statement before the industrial commission of inquiry, 1897’, p. 11.

83 Witwatersrand Chamber of Mines, Industrial commission, pp. 44, 219.

84 Wayne Dooling, Slavery, emancipation and colonial rule in South Africa, Athens, OH, Ohio University Press, 2007.

85 Hammond John Hays, ‘South Africa and its future’, North American Review, 164, 2, 1897, p. 246.

86 Ibid., p. 247. See also Herzig C. S., ‘The handling of colored labor’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 2 June 1906, p. 1055.

87 Higginson John, ‘Privileging the machines: American engineers, indentured Chinese and white workers in South Africa's deep-level gold mines, 1902–1907’, International Review of Social History 52, 1, 2007, pp. 1–34.

88 Quoted in ibid., p. 15.

89 Charles H. Finch, ‘Workings of a manger's mind’, Mining and Scientific Press, 1 February 1902, p. 65.

90 For a comparable case study of British engineers, see Harvey Charles and Press Jon, ‘Overseas investment and the professional advance of British metal mining engineers, 1851–1914’, Economic History Review, 42, 1, 1989, pp. 6486.

91 Blainey Geoffrey, The rush that never ended: a history of Australian mining, Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1969, pp. 251252.

92 Morse Kathryn, The nature of gold: an environmental history of the Klondike gold rush, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2003.

93 Herbert Hoover, ‘Training of the mining engineer’, Science, 25 November 1904, pp. 716, 719. The most detailed account of Hoover's mining career is Nash George H., The life of Herbert Hoover: the engineer, 1874–1914, London: Norton, 1983.

94 Gonzalez Gilbert G., Culture of empire: American writers, Mexico, and Mexican immigrants, 1880–1930, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2004, p. 31.

95 Herbert A. Megraw, ‘The mines of Mexico’, Engineering Magazine, October 1913, p. 40.

96 David M. Pletcher, Rails, mines, and progress: seven American promoters in Mexico, 1867–1911, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1958, p. 3.

97 Pletcher David M., The diplomacy of trade and investment: American economic expansion in the hemisphere, 1865–1900, Columbia, MO, and London: University of Missouri Press, 1998, p. 102.

98 Alexander D. Anderson, Mexico from a material standpoint, New York, 1884, p. 6.

99 Walter D. Beverly, ‘Reminiscences of mining in Durango’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 2 October 1909, p. 636.

100 Hart John Mason, Empire and revolution: the Americans in Mexico since the Civil War, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002, p. 152.

101 Martinelli , Undermining race, pp. 110113.

102 Schell William Jr, Integral outsiders: the American colony in Mexico City, 1876–1911, Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 2001, p. 113.

103 Bernstein Marvin D., The Mexican mining industry, 1890–1950: a study of the interaction of politics, economics, and technology, Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1964, p. 75.

104 Gonzalez , Culture of empire, p. 35.

105 Schell , Integral outsiders, p. 51.

106 Ibid., p. xix.

107 Robert T. Hill, ‘The Santa Eulalia District, Mexico’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 1 August 1903, p. 158.

108 Eugene P. Lyle, ‘The American influence in Mexico’, Current Literature, October 1903, pp. 416, 417.

109 H. H. Lee, ‘The quest for the golden fleece’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 23 June 1904, p. 998.

110 American Institute of Mining Engineers, Excursions and entertainments: Mexican meeting, November 1901, supplement to AIME Transactions, 1902, p. cxl.

111 Martinelli , Undermining race, pp. 110113.

112 Hart , Empire and revolution, pp. 141143.

113 Ibid.

114 Hammond, Autobiography, vol. 2, pp. 454–79.

115 Hart , Empire and revolution, p. 140.

116 Hammond , Autobiography, vol. 2, p. 506.

117 Ibid., vol. 2, p. 510.

118 Hart , Empire and revolution, p. 140.

119 Salas Miguel Tinker, In the shadow of the eagles: Sonora and the transformation of the border during the Porfiriato, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997, pp. 178–179.

120 Bernstein , Mexican mining industry, p. 66.

121 Rickard Thomas, Interviews with mining engineers, San Francisco, CA: Mining & Scientific Press, 1922, p. 123.

122 Ibid., p. 248.

123 Macdonald Bernard, ‘Development of the cyanide process for silver ores in Mexico’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 18 April 1908, p. 802.

124 Mining Magazine, June 1910, p. 427; Rickard , Interviews, p. 123.

125 Richard , Interviews, p. 256.

126 Gonzalez , Culture of empire, p. 33.

127 Ibid., p. 109; Woodbridge Dwight E., ‘La Cananea mining camp’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 6 October 1906, p. 623.

128 ‘Minas Prietas’, Mining and Scientific Press, 27 Aril 1895, p. 260.

129 Ibid.; Malcolmson James W., ‘Mining development in Mexico during 1902’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 3 January 1903, p. 29.

130 Salas , Shadow, p. 185.

131 Ruiz Ramon Eduardo, The people of Sonora and the Yankee capitalist, Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1988, pp. 6168; Allen H. Rogers, ‘Character and habits of the Mexican miner’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 4 April 1908, p. 702.

132 E. A. H. Tays, ‘Present labor conditions in Mexico’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 5 October 1907, p. 624; Allen H. Rogers, ‘Character and habits of the Mexican miner’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 4 April 1908, p. 701.

133 E. A. H. Tays, ‘Mining in Mexico, past and present’, Engineering and Mining Journal, 3 October 1908, p. 667.

134 Rogers, ‘Character and habits’, p. 702.

135 Leonard Rhomas M., Central America and the United States, Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1991, p. 43.

136 Wilkins Mira, The emergence of multinational enterprise: American business abroad from the colonial era to 1914, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970, p. 151.

137 Ibid., p. 174; George E. Montadon, ‘An American enterprise in Chile’, Overland Monthly, December 1909, pp. 561–5.

138 Wilkins , Emergence, p. 185; Martin Percy F., Salvador of the twentieth century, London: Edward Arnold, 1911, p. 189.

139 Josiah Barbara P., Migration, mining, and the African diaspora: Guyana in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pp. 43–44; Thomas Dalgleish, ‘The gold fields of British Guiana’, Century, September 1896, pp. 716–17.

140 A similar argument is made by Jonathan Curry-Machado in his study of the sugar industry in Cuba: see Curry-Machado, ‘Sugar’, p. 56.

141 Quoted in Roediger David R. and Esch Elizabeth D., The production of difference: race and the management of labor in U.S. history, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, p. 116.

142 Hoover Herbert, Principles of mining, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1909, p. 162.

143 Ibid., p. 163.

144 Roediger and Esch, Production of difference, pp. 117–21.

145 Lake Marilyn and Reynolds Henry, Drawing the global colour line: white men's countries and the international challenge of racial equality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 49–113.

146 Megraw , ‘Mines of Mexico’, pp. 4445.

* For their careful reading, critical insights, and advice, the author would like to thank Jay Sexton, Pekka Hämäläinen, Michelle Hay, and the editors and anonymous readers of the Journal of Global History. Helpful audiences at the University of Oxford, the British American Nineteenth Century Historians Conference at Rice University, and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations annual meeting shaped early versions of this article. The British Academy's Postdoctoral Research Fellowship provided research funding essential for its completion.

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