“Chemists, minors and petroleum dealers: globalisation and technology in Mexico´s sulphur industry (1920-1972)”
Supervisor: Dr. María Cecilia Zuleta (Colmex)
My research will follow three lines of analysis: 1) geological and industrial spaces and methods to extract and transform sulphur during the 1920s-1960s; 2) the role played by sulphur industry in Mexican projects of import substitution industrialization and modernization of agriculture; and 3) the technological and economic connections between Mexican industries and transnationals counterparts. The proposed periodization is divided into four historical stages. The first stage, accordingly, begins when German and American chemical factories in Mexico opened a domestic market for sulphur, synthetic raw materials and chemical products (1920-1942). The second period on which I focus began with the Mexican expropriation of foreign oil companies in 1938 and the nationalization of German chemical firms in 1942. In such process, the Mexican government acquired technologies and patents to manufacture petrochemicals and agrochemicals, whose operation required sulphur. The third phase that this project pretends to analyze, will explore the export sulphur boom at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec by American Companies (1954-1964). In this period, favored by the rapid growth of international chemical and petrochemical industries in Postwar United States and Europe, Mexico became the second world largest sulphur producer. Finally, the fourth stage comprises the mexicanization of the Isthmian sulphur industry (1965) and the regional creation of a petrochemical and agrochemical corridor that would work with capital and raw materials provided by national oil and sulphur companies (1966-1972). In technological terms, the first stage coincided with the rise of the Calcaroni mining industry at the Guaxcamá mines, in the state of San Luis Potosí; the second one corresponded with the production of sulphur by secondary recovery plants in oil and metallurgical refineries at Poza Rica, Veracruz, and Torreón, Coahuila; and the latter ones comprised the development of Frasch-based sulphur industry in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. As mentioned above, all these stages coincided with significant steps towards economic globalization around the world and technological development, which obliges us to think about the economic development of the region in wider context.