[Havana? ca. 1899]. Twenty-eight albumen photographs, most approximately 6 x 8 inches, with one measuring 5 x 8 inches, mounted to larger cards. Light soiling and some edge wear to mounts. A couple of images and mounts with heavier soiling and wear; one mount and photograph broken horizontally and remounted on backing card. Pencil captions on a number of mounts. Minor fading and silvering at edges of a few images, but overall sharp and clean images. About very good. Item #1526
A very unusual group of nearly thirty large-format photographs that depict the camp and operations of the Juragua Iron Company and its environs near Santiago de Cuba at the turn of the 20th century. Just over twenty of these original albumen photographs document mining operations and infrastructure, including railroads and camp buildings. An additional six images comprise views of Santiago and of rural village and school buildings. These images were taken no later than 1899, as two of those present here were published in Robert P. Porter's book of that year, entitled "Industries of Cuba," which dedicates several pages to a description of the company and the extent of its business on the island.
The Juragua Iron Company was the first American mining venture to be established on the island of Cuba, with operations to extract iron ore beginning in the early 1880s and the first shipments arriving on American shores in 1884. The company was controlled by Bethlehem Steel and became the largest, most successful mining operation of the period in Cuba. In his contemporaneous book, Porter says of the company:
"Though there are many mining properties, three American companies, the Juragua Iron Company, the Spanish-American Iron Company, and the Sigua Iron Company, do all the business. The Juragua does far more than all the others. Its shipments to the United States in 1897 were 244,817 (5932 tons, in addition, to Nova Scotia) to 152,356 tons by the Spanish American Company, which made its first shipment in 1895, and none by the Sigua Company, which has shipped, in all, 21,853 tons.... Under [their] charter the Juragua Iron Company, Limited, opened mines in Firmeza, laid a railroad twenty miles long from that point to La Cruz in Santiago Bay, where fine docks and piers were built, and in 1884, shipped the first cargo of iron ore from Cuba. The company has a fine fleet of iron steamers. The mines of this company were extensively and successfully worked, and encouraged by this, the Spanish-American Company and the Sigua Company purchased mines to the east of the Juragua properties and at once began the work of developing them."
The photographs collected here primarily show the above-ground areas of the mining operation, including ore processing buildings, workers' barracks, and other outbuildings that made up the encampment surrounding the mines. They also depict various views of the railroad and mining car tracks that were built to service the mines, and several shots of men posed on site or at work. In all, they present a fascinating and cohesive perspective on the disposition of the Juragua Iron Company at the end of the 19th century.
Given the publication of two of these images in a contemporary account of Cuban industry, as well as additional photos of Santiago and the region, it seems likely that our unnamed photographer, was either on specific assignment for the book or making a working tour of Cuba in the hopes of selling his images upon his return. We locate only a scrapbook of later images of the Juragua facilities at Lehigh University, as well as a few scattered photographs in the archives of Bethlehem Steel and related collections at the Hagley Museum. An absorbing and rare group of images.