|Excerpt from the Book
EL SALITRE (NITRATE), Historical Resume since its Discovery and Exploitation.Roberto Hernández C., Valparaíso, Fisher Hnos., 1930
The Tamarugal forests have directly and immediately intervened in the creation of the nitrate industry and, with their deterioration, fomented a vast and quick development of this industry.
It is said that in the last third of the 18th Century, the producers of nitrate hid in the thick forests of La Tirana, like pursued alchemists, to cook the caliche (raw material of nitrate) clandestinely and extract from it that valuable substance that was applied with such great success in the fabrication of gunpowder, all this in opposition to the King of Spain, who had monopolized it and sold it in his trusts and factories.
Tradition preserves the name of Mariano Ollero as one of the Indians who worked with greatest tenacity at the end of the 18th century, in favor of nitrate. They extracted from certain sites, which were not too distant, boulders covered with nitrate, and in whose interior there were veins of the same substance.Memoirs of the Peruvian wise man Mr. Mariano Eduardo Rivero:
"In 1821 this nitrate was made known in Europe, thanks to Mr. Pedro Fuentes, citizen of Tarapaca´, who had been engaged in its purification in the Chilean province of Concepción, and provided some of his products to me in Madrid. The mineralogist scientist Haley, to whom he offered a portion of the same substance, was the first who determined its crystallization. It was then announced that this nitrate was in a vast territory, easy to exploit and that the European trade would obtain great advantages from its extraction.
"But in spite of my promises, it was a impossible to obtain any price for the first shipments that the first cargoes that were sent in the years 1827and 1830 to England and the United States as its use was still unknown. Only in 1831 nitrate came to be appreciated in France, and the quintal was sold at over 30 francs at which time its export was fomented, which in the last fifteen years had increased to 3,260.475 quintals".
Giving to the discovery all the importance that it has as an initial point of a stage, Messrs. Semper and Michels only state in their Monograph published in Berlin in 1904: "A German who lived in Bolivia, Tadeo Haenke, was the one who gave the first impulse to the exploitation of nitrate with the invention in 1809 of a procedure to extract potash nitrate from the Caliche of Tarapacá".
Haenke arrived in Chile with the famous scientific expedition headed by Malaspina; expedition composed of hydrographers, naturalists, astronomers, mineralogists and draftsmen, prepared by Charles II of Spain. Enamored of the nature and in spite of coming from the greatest cultural centers he wished to live definitively in his farm of "Santa Cruz de Elicona" near Cochabamba that he cultivated mainly with scientific purposes and there he died on December 17, 1817.
With the advice given by the wise man in 1809, the new industrialists were able to produce a quantity of nitrate that was sent to Spain: the first of which there is news of according to documents. From 1810 to 1812 seven or eight plants for the elaboration of nitrate were set up in the nitrate fields of Negreiros, Pampa Negra and Zapiga (Tarapacá), which were called "Paradas", according to the system that was inferred from the explanations of Haenke.
Negreiros derives its name from a Portuguese, thus called, who was one of the first to prepare nitrate in the Paradas, by means of a system that constituted a progress, however rudimentary it could be. The fact is that Negreiros has remained as a designation of a geographical place, by the name of the industrialist; but the name of Julian Fierro, of Chilean nationality who was the general administrator of Negreiros and the director of all the elaboration work remains unknown and forgotten. The production of nitrate in Tarapaca since the end of October 1812 until the beginning of February of 18 amounted to 23,160 quintals 31 lbs., which equals a production of nearly 70,000 quintals per year.
Since the month of March 1812 until January 1813, seven shipments of nitrate of soda were sent from Tarapacá to Callao for the account and order of Mr. Sebastian de Ugarrisa, as follows:
The following are among the producers of that period who are remembered, some of them natives: Esteban Vernal, Benito Calla, Manuel Hidalgo, José Jacinto Plaza, Manuel Arias, Vicente Granadino, Bacilio Carpio, Atanacio Tinaxas. The name of a woman also figures, Mrs. Anda Vilca.
When the Government realized the need of activating explorations it issued the following decree that is inserted in number 39 of "La Aurora", of Camilo Henríquez, corresponding to November 5, 1812.
Santiago, October 29, 1812.
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BRIEF HISTORY OF NITRATEOSCAR BERMUDEZ M. Ediciones Pampa Desnuda 1987.
Once the caliche (raw material of nitrate) was extracted and after having crushed it into small pieces, it was leached by cooking it with water in one or two copper cauldrons, which were heated over live fire by means of a furnace or firebox, which, placed under or between the two cauldrons permitted heating both. With the increase in temperature to which the mass was subjected inside the cauldrons, sodium chloride precipitated and the water became increasingly saturated with nitrate of soda thus achieving the separation of the different substances. Once these were dissolved, the liquid saturated with the same - called mother liquor - passed to another deposit where it was clarified and ended by becoming crystallized . When nitrate that first was in a state of solution is crystallized, it is a perfectly white clot, of a characteristic smell and that keeps the humidity, so it must be exposed to the air to dry.
This first system for the elaboration of nitrate of soda, was known
subsequently with the name of "Paradas", and was used until
the Second half of the 19th century, having been reformed frequently
. The copper cauldrons that were used were the same that were used by
the Spaniards in the treatment of silver minerals and there is no doubt
that the Spanish miners were the first producers of nitrate of Tarapacá,
being efficiently assisted by the natives who carried out the same operations
in different places of Pampa del Tamarugal using small boilers.
Until 1866 iodine had been a substance of which no advantage had been taken in the Nitrate Pampa. The same Chilean industrialist and inventor, after lengthy experiments, was able to constitute a procedure to extract iodine from the mother liquor and requested the patent and the legal privilege to exploit it.
The same year, another matter of great importance for the development of the nitrate industry took place outside the Peruvian territory, when the Chilean industrialist and explorer Mr. José Santos Ossa, carried out with success before the Bolivian government, the legal proceedings to explore for nitrate in it.
In October 1869 the elaboration of nitrate commenced in Oficina Salar del Carmen, the first nitrate producing plant that was installed beyond the Peruvian territory, south of River Loa.
The first nitrate railway, inaugurated in mid 1871 was established to connect the port of Iquique with the district of La Noria. Thus a new era was established in the nitrate transportation, commencing the replacement of the old hoof roads.
The decisive and immediate cause of the war between Chile and Bolivia was the violation, on the part of this latter nation, of the Treaty of Boundaries in effect between the two countries since 1874. The tax that the Bolivian government imposed on Compañía de Salitres y Ferrocarril de Antofagasta, violating what was stipulated in such Treaty, precipitated the war conflict when the Company refused to pay this duty, and the Bolivian government ordered the attachment of its property, its sale in public auction and subsequently, the recovery of the nitrate companies maintained by the Company. The reaction of the Chilean Government was the occupation of the port of Antofagasta, event that occurred on February 14, 1879.
In the month of April of that year war had been declared, on the one hand, between Chile and Bolivia, and on the other between Chile and Peru. The Peruvian intervention in the conflict had its origin in the Treaty of the Alliance executed between this country and Bolivia in 1873. Military operations followed until the Chilean forces entered the Peruvian capital in January 1881, where the last resistance was liquidated.
Before the Pacific War commenced, more than 50% of the sums invested in the exploitation of nitrate in Tarapacá were Peruvian capitals; the Chilean capital was in the second place, the third and fourth places being for the English and Germans. Apart from these nationalities, there were investments in the industry by a few Italian, Spanish, Bolivian and French producers, in order of importance.
Towards 1890 and shortly after around 60% of the nitrate industry was controlled directly or indirectly by the stock corporations that were based in London. In the following years, however, no increase was observed in Chilean and German investments and thereafter the preponderance of the English influence started to decline, remaining proportional to the Chilean influence in the first decade of the Twentieth Century. In 1912 and considering the joint production of the two provinces, Tarapacá and Antofagasta. the Chilean interests represented nearly 40% and those of other nationalities were around 60%. Exports exceeded two million tons per year.
One of the issues to which not sufficient importance was given at first
was the advertising of the product, notwithstanding that for such purpose
a Permanent Nitrate Committee was formed in 1886. A better organization
of the media, to make known the fertilizer in the foreign agricultural
and agronomic institutions was established in 1884 when the Advertising
Nitrate Association was founded in 1884, which later became the Association
of Nitrate Producers of Chile in 1919.
CHRONOLOGIC TABLE OF THE HISTORY OF NITRATESince its origin until 1891
Excerpt from the speech of President José Manuel Balmaceda, in his message to the Chambers of June 1, 1889:
"It is true that we must not close the doors to free concurrence and production of nitrate of Tarapacá, but we cannot consent either that such vast and wealthy region be converted into a simple foreign factory. The fact that the very serious and real event that the singularity of the industry, the way in which constitution of nitrate ownership has occurred, the absorption of the small capital by the foreign capital, and up to the class of the races that will dispute the imperium of that vast and fecund exploitation, impose a special legislation based on the nature of things and the special needs of our economic and industrial existence."Source:
HISTORIA DEL SALITRE, Vol. I: From its origin to the Pacific War.
OSCAR BERMUDEZ MIRAL, Ediciones de la Universidad de Chile, Santiago, Chile, 1963.
HISTORIA DEL SALITRE, Vol. II: From the Pacific War to the Revolution of 1891.
OSCAR BERMUDEZ MIRAL, Ediciones Pampa Desnuda, Santiago, Chile, 1984
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