A lieutenant from Diego de
Almagro's expedition whose troops met a supply ship from Peru
in what is now the Bahia de Valparaiso in 1536, as the founder
of the city. Despite Pedro de Valdivia's designation of the
bay as the port of Santiago and the building of some churches,
more than 2 and half centuries passed before the Spanish crown
established a cabildo in 1791. Not until 1802 did Valparaiso
legally become a city.
Spanish mercantilism retarded
Valaparaiso's growth in colonial times, but after independence
foreign merchants quickly established their presence. One visitor
in 1822 remarks that Englishmen and North Americans so dominated
the city that butfor the mean and dirty appearance of the place,
a stranger might almost fancy himself arrived at a British settlement.
It is commerce was disorderly but vigorous.
Only a few months later,
another visitor had similar impressions, noting that although
even the governor's house and the custom-house are of poor appearance
all the symptoms of greate increase of trade are visible in
the many new erections for ware-houses.
Valparaiso's population at
independence was barely 5,000, but the demand for Chilean wheate
brought on by the California Gold Rush prompted such a boom
that, shortly after mid-century, the city's population was about
55,000. Completion of the railroad from Santiago was a further
boost and, by 1880, the population exceeded 100,000. As the
first major port-of-call for ships around Cape Horn, the city
had become a major commercial center for the entire Pacific
coast and the hub of Chile's nascent banking industry.
The opening of the Panama
Canal was a notable blow to Valparaiso's economy, as European
shipping avoid the much longer and more arduous Cape Horn route.
Furthermore, Chilean exports of mineral nitrates declined as
Europeans found synthetic substitutes, indirectly affecting
Valparaiso by further reducing maritime commerce in the region.
The US Great Depression was a calamity, as demand for Chile's
other mineral exports declined. Not untill after World War II
was there significant recovery, as the country began to industrialize.
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