Mexico's principal seaport was founded by Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) as Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz in April 1519. He soon moved it 28 kilometers north to a site known today as La Antigua, but throughout the sixteenth century the hot, humid climate, epidemic disease, hurricanes, and vulnerability to foreign attack retarded the growth of the port, which was Spain's only harbor for Mexican commerce. Shipping preferred the former location, and in 1599 the town formally returned to its original site opposite the island of San Juan de Ulúa. Annual fleets brought European wines, olive oil, quicksilver, textiles, and other manufactures, and returned with gold, silver, and agricultural produce. Veracruz's annual trade fairs and its warehouses tempted French, English, and Dutch privateers, buccaneers, and pirates. Raids by English sea dogs John Hawkins (1532–1595) and Francis Drake (1540?–1596) in 1568 and Dutch buccaneers Laurent Graff (Lorencillo), Granmont de la Motte, and Nicolás Van Horn in 1683 were especially damaging. Great fortifications on San Juan de Ulúa and in Veracruz arose to defend the port. Even more devastating was the widespread smuggling that eluded Spain's monopolistic trading system well into the eighteenth century. Mexico City's merchants controlled Veracruz throughout much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but the establishment of a Chamber of Commerce (consulado) in Veracruz in 1795 reflected the emergence of a significant merchant community in the port. Reflecting its rising trade, Veracruz's population rose from about 6,000 in 1700 to nearly 15,000 by 1821.
Mexico won independence in 1821, but Spain held the San Juan de Ulúa fortress until 1825, thereby restricting Veracruz's commerce. Thereafter, Veracruz continued as Mexico's principal port. Taxes on foreign trade were the government's main revenue and made the port a target for both foreign and native challengers. The French attacked the port in 1838 and U.S. forces took it 1847. The French returned again in 1861, when they installed the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian (1832–1867) on a Mexican throne. Rebels also often seized the city, and President Benito Juárez (1806–1872) made it the temporary capital of Mexico from 1858 to 1860 when he was still a young revolutionary fighting against the government. Later in the century improvement in public health, infrastructure development, and new Mexican industry stimulated growth in the port once more. A railway to Mexico City began in 1873, and new wharves, warehouses, public works, and a potable water system came during the rule of Porfirio Díaz (1830–1915) from 1876 to 1910. By 1900 Veracruz was the leading cargo port in Latin America. Railway expansion in northern Mexico diverted some trade with the United States away from the port, yet the city's population grew from about 16,000 in 1877 to 53,000 by 1910.
From 1914 to 1915 U.S. occupation of Veracruz helped to bring down the government of Victoriano Huerta (1854–1916), and the city became the Mexican capital again for a short time. Veracruz was a stronghold of organized labor (especially longshoremen) in the Mexican Revolution (1910–1940). After 1940, new port facilities and containerization led to substantial growth by the end of the twentieth century. Exports from Veracruz include petroleum, chemicals, iron and steel, coffee, fruits, rum, molasses, tobacco, chicle (used in making chewing gum), and fertilizers. Leading imports include manufactured goods, grains, and chemicals. In the year 2000 a record 1,685 vessels carrying nearly 15 million tons of cargo docked in the port, and the city's population exceeded 500,000.
SEE ALSO Agriculture; Cargoes, Freight; Cargoes, Passenger; Chambers of Commerce; Conquistadors; Containerization; Empire, Spanish; Encomienda and Repartimiento; Free Ports; Harbors; Mexico; New Spain; Port Cities; Spain.
Antuñano Maurer, Alejandro de, et al. Veracruz: primer puerto del continente. Mexico City: Fundación Miguel Alemán, 1996.
Booker, Jackie Robinson. Veracruz Merchants, 1770–1829: A Mercantile Elite in Late Bourbon and Early Independent Mexico. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1993.
Pasquel, Leonardo. Biografía integral de la ciudad de Veracruz, 1519–1969. Veracruz, Mexico: Ayuntamiento de Veracruz, 1969.
Rodríguez, Hipólito, and Manrique, Jorge Alberto. Veracruz: La ciudad hecha de mar, 1519–1821. Veracruz, Mexico: Ayuntamiento de Veracruz and Instituto Verucrazano de Cultura, 1991.
Ralph Lee Woodward Jr.
Veracruz (state, Mexico)
Veracruz (vāräkrōōs´) [Span.,=true cross], officially Veracruz Llave (vāräkrōōs´ yä´bā), state (1990 pop. 6,228,239), 27,759 sq mi (71,896 sq km), E central Mexico. The capital is Xalapa. Stretching c.430 mi (690 km) along the Gulf of Mexico and reaching from 30 to 100 mi (48–161 km) inland, Veracruz rises from a tropical coastal plain into the temperate valleys and highlands of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The state shares with neighboring Puebla the highest peak in Mexico, Citlaltépetl. Most of central Veracruz is mountainous. The few navigable rivers are the Coatzacoalcos, Papáloapan, Pánuco, and Tamesí. Abundant rainfall and extremely fertile soil permit the cultivation of numerous crops. The state is a leading national producer of coffee, sugarcane, corn, and rice, and produces a wide variety of other crops. Cattle raising is practiced in the semitropical and temperate zones. From the tropical forests come dyewoods and hardwoods, chicle, and rubber, and in the colder regions maguey, various cacti, and coniferous forests are found. The state's principal natural resource and dominant industry is oil. The mountains contain relatively unexploited deposits of gold, silver, iron, and coal. Veracruz ranks high in the production of foods and beverages, as well as chemical manufacturing and metalworking. In ancient times the area was a hub of pre-Columbian civilizations, including the Olmecs, the Huastecs, and the Remojadas. Some groups were tributary to the Aztecs by the time Juan de Grijalva explored the coast in 1518. Veracruz became a state in 1824. Major cities, besides the capital, include Veracruz, Córdoba, and Coatzacoalcos.
Veracruz (city, Mexico)
Veracruz, city (1990 pop. 303,152), Veracruz state, E central Mexico, on the Gulf of Mexico. Rivaling Tampico as the country's main port, it is also the commercial and industrial center of an important oil region, as well as a major tourist resort with beautiful scenery, fine beaches, and excellent accommodations. The city stands on a low, sandy plain surrounded by dunes and swamps, some of which have been reclaimed and are very fertile. In 1519 the Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés landed near the site later chosen (1599) for the present city. Veracruz was easy prey for the buccaneers of the 17th and 18th cent. The harbor is guarded by the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa, which was begun in the 17th cent. and was the last stronghold of the Spanish before their expulsion in 1821. Veracruz was blockaded in 1838 by the French. In 1847, U.S. troops under Gen. Winfield Scott landed at Veracruz to begin the major campaign of the Mexican War. The War of the Reform involved foreign intervention in Veracruz; in Dec., 1861, Spanish troops landed there as the first contingent of a joint European force. French and British forces arrived the following month. When it became apparent that France was bent on actual conquest, the Spanish and British withdrew from the joint force. The adventure of the empire of Maximilian ensued. In 1914 an incident involving U.S. sailors in Tampico led President Woodrow Wilson to land troops in Veracruz, where they remained for six months. Mexico later responded by severing diplomatic relations.