South America - A Popular History - H. Butterworth

The Industrial Heroes


There are few more beautiful monuments in the cemeteries of the world than that of William Wheelwright in the Recoleta of Buenos Ayres, and as few that commemorate so wonderful a history. A memorial to his memory is also to be found in Valparaiso. He was buried at Newburyport, where a plain monument marks his resting-place.

This man of marvelous achievements was once, when young, a wrecked sailor on the shores of the Rio de la Plata. He is so represented in the Buenos Ayres monument. He entered the vast and undeveloped regions of the pampas as a castaway. He perceived the needs of the immense regions. He rose superior to misfortune and changed the face of the maritime world. As an illustration of the transcendent power of the human will, without other resources than those it can gain, his life is almost unexampled. In the industrial world he ranks with Franklin, and among men of spiritual vision, and almost impossible achievement, with Bolivar and San Martin.

There is a notable sentence in the Hon. Caleb Cushing's introduction to the "Life of Wheelwright." It indirectly pictures the hero of the future, the true leader of the armies of beneficence. Mr. Cushing says: "The contemplation of his life suggests two prominent considerations for South America, namely, that war is not the only department of service which entitles one to a place in history, and that a foreigner, even if he is not a citizen, may sometimes do more to promote a country's welfare than the most distinguished patriot."

Wheelwright saw what South America might become, and attempted to make real the vision. He was considered a visionary. "If that insane Wheelwright calls here again," said an English consul to a servant, "do not admit him." All the world and fate seemed against him, yet his faith rose over all.

He was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1798. He early became a sailor. When he was but nineteen years of age he commanded a bark bound for Rio de Janeiro. The year 1823 found him in command of the ship Rising Empire, when he was wrecked at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata. He arrived in Buenos Ayres empty-handed. The wreck had shown him one of the needs of South America, namely, safe harbors. He became a supercargo on a ship bound around the Horn to Valparaiso. His ambition now was to improve the navigation of South America, and he adopted that country as his home.

He was United States consul at Guayaquil from 1824 to 1829. He improved harbors, and established a line of vessels between Valparaiso and Cobija. He added to this enterprise a line of steamers on the west coast. He sought aid from the United States for his ship schemes, but it was refused. Not daunted by failure, he went to England. He there received a favorable hearing. He organized the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, which has proved a great benefit to England and South America, and also to the civilized world.

The Pacific Steam Navigation Company, in 1876, operated fifty-four steamers and controlled the route through Panama. Wheelwright now dominated the southern sea. The Andes lifted their giant towers above him. Could they also be controlled, harnessed with iron, made high-ways through the air? He attempted that task. He caused a railroad to be built from Valparaiso to Santiago. It was but the beginning of colossal schemes. He opened the port of Caldera, and built a railway from it to Copiapo. He next planned a railroad from Caldera across the Andes to Rosario. This proved to be the forerunner of the trans-andine railroad, now nearly completed, one of the most stupendous works ever accomplished by man. In 1863 he obtained the concession for the Grand Argentine Central Railway. In 1872 he completed a railroad thirty miles long, from Buenos Ayres to the harbor of Ensenada. This was connected with the railroad across the pampas.

This man gave to benevolent purposes about six hundred thousand dollars. He died in London, September 26, 1873, at the age of seventy-five. His full-length portrait now adorns the Merchants' Exchange at Valparaiso.

The industrial progress of Peru is largely associated with the enterprises of Henry Meiggs, a man of wonderful achievements and remarkable mistakes. He had a noble heart. The payment of his debts in full, when beyond the reach of his creditors, proves that he was an honest man. With his many mistakes, Henry Meiggs must be numbered among the world's benefactors.

He was born in Catskill, New York, on July 7, 1811. He came to New York when a young man, and engaged in the lumber-trade. He failed in the crisis of 1837, at the age of twenty-six. He recovered from the disaster, and at once established a lumber-yard at Williamsburg, New York. For a while he was prosperous, but in 1842) ?> he again met with reverses, and returned to New York. From there he went to San Francisco with a cargo of lumber, on which he made a large profit. He there saw a new opportunity.

Steamship routes of S.A.


He created a fleet of lumber craft, sloops and schooners, to trade in lumber on the coast. He employed five hundred men in felling trees for a single sawmill on San Francisco Bay. He became rich. His name was a synonym of enterprise. In the second great financial depression, that of 1854, he again failed, and fled from California to South America, leaving debts to the amount of one million dollars. He now sought to recover his fortune and to pay his debts by engaging in enterprises of public improvement in South America. He began building bridges in Chili. In 1858 he became a contractor for the construction of railroads under the Chilian government. He was successful, realizing a profit of one-and-a-half million dollars, and made for himself the reputation of being one of the most successful railroad-builders in the world.

The so-called Oroya Railroad, or the Callao, Lima, and Oroya Railroad, Oroya being the high Andean terminus, is one of the new wonders of the world, and well earned for him a place among the foremost captains of industry. The purpose of this highway through the clouds was to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by rail and steam —by rail over the Cordilleras, and by steam by meats of a branch of the Amazon to the Amazon, and thence to the sea. The railroad was to ascend a height nearly the altitude of Mont Blanc. Great gorges would have to be surmounted, rushing streams to be spanned with bridges in what at first seemed to be impossible places, tunnels to be begun by men hanging from ropes over precipices, borings in rocks to be made over the chasms. The implements for work would have to be transported to almost inaccessible heights. Meiggs faced all these difficulties in the spirit of Bolivar: "If nature herself opposes us, we will compel her to obey." The enterprise was begun. It soon overtaxed the financial resources of the Peruvian government.

Meiggs then used his private fortune. The iron road gradually found its way to Oroya, at a height of some fourteen thousand feet. Its connection with the Amazon is but a matter of time.

Henry Meiggs was again a rich man. He devoted a large part of his great wealth to paying his old debts principal and interest. To recover his influence and to say to the world that he was honest seems to have been his purpose through all his misfortunes.

After the liberators the industrial classes are the true heroes and the real army of liberation in South America. Since the period of her independence of Spain the farmer, the artisan and the schoolmaster have been her benefactors. Out of the war of this army with ignorance, barbarism and the soil, her glory is rising and will continue to rise.

In Argentina is the South American Normal School. It is training a company of teachers to lead the ne armies of peace. Just outside of Buenos Ayres rises what is claimed to be the largest roof in the world. Be side the building are many ships, over which fly the flags of the commercial nations. There are many large estancias;  or ranches, there, on which are flocks and herds, sometimes numbering fifty thousand animals. One of these estancias is owned by Nicholas Lowe. It is situated some fifty or more miles from Buenos Ayres. Mr. Lowe is a Scotchman who has given away a small fortune for educational purposes. He has a Rock of more than ten thousand sheep, and took one of the prizes at the World's Columbian Exposition. He is reputed to be wealthy. One of the squares in the town is named for him, and he is regarded in his part of the country as a benefactor. "When I first came to the country," he said, "I was almost empty-handed. My coat was my house. I began work with my own spade." His home is as beautiful as his flocks are numerous and his fields wide. He came to the country to stay in it and to live in it. It is such immigrants as he whose lives are beyond price to South America, and who are playing such an important part in its development.