Pearson, Weetman Dickinson (1856–1927)

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Pearson, Weetman Dickinson (1856–1927)

Weetman Dickinson Pearson (First Viscount Cowdray; b. 15 July 1856; d. 1 May 1927), British contractor who headed the construction and engineering firm of S. Pearson and Son, of London. Born at Shelley Woodhouse, Yorkshire, he received a private education at Harrowgate. In 1875 he became a partner in his grandfather's construction firm. Among the projects that made the firm known around the world during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames River in London (1894), the Hudson River Railroad Tunnel in New York (initiated in 1888, completed ca. 1900), and harbor works and railroads in England, Spain, Mexico, and Chile.

Pearson's firm received several contracts from the government of Mexican General Porfirio Díaz. It initially entered Mexico to construct the Grand Canal, which drained the lake in the Valley of Mexico, ending the perennial flooding of Mexico City. Other projects included the Tehuantepec Railraod (1906–1907) and the Veracruz port facilities (1895–1902).

Pearson formed the Mexican Eagle Oil Company during the oil boom that took place between 1901 and 1920, when Mexico was the fastest-growing oil producer in the world. The company's concessions in Tehuantepec, Tampico, and Veracruz eventually reached a production of 32 million barrels per year. Díaz cautiously split concessions between U.S. and British firms, to retain bargaining power by shifting his favors between them. Pearson's concessions constituted a major source of oil for the British navy during World War I.

The Mexican Revolution rendered the oil firms and their owners controversial as they sought to maintain production and protect their concessions. The resulting political maneuvering caused considerable difficulties between London and Washington. Lord Cowdray was frequently accused of supporting the government of General Victoriano Huerta and opposing the Revolution. Throughout the years that his firm operated in Mexico, Pearson visited the country annually, often spending up to three months, though most of his time was spent directing the firm from London. Mexican Eagle ultimately became part of Royal Dutch Shell.

See alsoDíaz, Porfirio; Energy.


John A. Spender, Weetman Pearson: First Viscount Cowdray, 1856–1927 (1930).

Alfred Tischendorf, Great Britain and Mexico in the Era of Porfirio Díaz (1961).

Kenneth J. Grieb, The United States and Huerta (1969).

Additional Bibliography

Brown, Jonathan C. Oil and Revolution in Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Connolly, Priscilla. El contratista de don Porfirio: Obras públicas, deuda y desarrollo desigual. México, D.F.: El Colegio de Michoacán: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Azcapotzalco: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1997.

Santiago, Myrna. The Ecology of Oil: Environment, Labor, and the Mexican Revolution, 1900–1938. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

                                      Kenneth J. Grieb