Some people might glance at a photo and not think much about it. Others might look at a photo and look for the thousand words its worth. A photograph captures the history and can be a reflection of meaningful depictions from the past. It can give the viewer insights into the lives, hopes, and dreams of people who lived long ago. This article will show you four historical photographs from both India and Mexico. These photographs will illustrate the ongoing construction of the new infrastructure and transportation in both of the empires of India and Mexico, which was the key component that paved the way of the future for the production and sales of goods, and services in both countries.
This is a photo of the Bengal-Nagpur Railway Construction taken by Townshend photography. In this photograph, there are hundreds of Indian workers who seem to be wearing well-worn work clothes while walking over a make-shift bridge. I don’t think I’m the only one who freaks out when driving over a modern bridge today. I couldn’t imagine walking over the one shown in the photograph. By the looks of it, these people probably belong in the lower, working class at a poverty level where the pay is almost nothing. However, it’s the people in the photo who India should thank for putting in the blood, sweat, and tears for the construction of this railway. Because little did these workers know that what they are starting would turn into one of the world’s largest railway networks today and one of India’s greatest assets. This railway was called the Bengal-Nagpur Railway which is now called the South Eastern Railway. In an article from Anglo- India Central, the use and need of a railroad system in British India was what served as the backbone for economic growth and industrial development in the post independence era. Having this railroad would not only serve as a means for transportation for the people but also as a way to transport goods and services across India in a timely manner unparalleled to anything else. For those in the photograph, they knew it was imperative to their existence and the symbol of their hopes and dreams. Not only would it be their source of income, it would also give them an avenue to connect to the rest of the world.
In comparison, this next photograph, taken by photographer Charles Burlingame, was taken in Mexico of three men who have a load of wholesale Mexican baskets strapped to their backs. In this photo, these three men are wearing shawls, sandals, and sombreros and one is holding what looks to be a walking stick. This would have been the way goods moved from one place to another before the construction of the railroads. Talk about putting the team on your back! I know I would have loved the innovation of a railroad system if it were my job to transport all those baskets by foot. But it turns out these men seem to be standing on a railroad, so, more than likely, these men were the transporters of goods to sell from the railroad stop to the outlying villages and markets. The goods in the baskets, and even the baskets themselves could have been made miles and miles away from the village where they will eventually end up. But they would never have arrived there without the creation of the railroads in Mexico. Railroads built by the same type of lower-class, poverty-level workers who built the railroads in India. Stated by Osgood Hardy in the Pacific Historical Review of the revolution and the railroads of Mexico, “In 1876 there had been only 691 kilometers built; by 1890 there were 8,948, while in 1900 and 1911 there were 14,573 and 24,717 kilometers respectively”(Hardy, 249). At the time the photograph was taken, the railroad industry was booming. After seeing how useful and successful the railway system was in the rest of the world, Mexico couldn’t get enough. The workers who built the railroads in Mexico shared the same hopes and dreams of those who built the railroads in India and knew it would connect them to the rest of the world.
This next photo clearly shows that these men are creating a tunnel to build a railroad through a mountain. Also taken by Townshend Photography this is a snapshot at a point in time when the Bengal-Nagpur Railway was being constructed. These men look as if they have been working on this project for quite some time. Some look to be laborers such as the individuals in the previous Mexico photograph and some look to be their supervisors. All seem to be taking pride in their work by the way they are standing proud in the photo and know they are part of something that will benefit their country for many years to come. In both Mexico and India, the social classes of the workers building these railroads looked to be hard working folks who grind all day long just to be able to put food on the table for their families. The need for this railroad to be constructed through a mountain lets us know that India was being strategic in planning their routes for the most efficiency and placing the railroads in the best places to get the most time sensitive routes. In today’s world, the same strategy would be to construct highways to run under, or over, the city to make it the most time efficient for drivers and commuters to pass through without having fight congestion in the city traffic. Goods and services can make a lot better time if they go through a tunnel rather than having to take the long route around, or over, a mountain. Ironically, not only did the Indian people have to construct and build these railroads but the funding to build them came out of the Indian taxpayer’s pocket. Stated by Stuart Sweeney in a text called Indian Railroading, “By 1908, Britain had invested 274 million of capital in Indian railways, making it the largest single investment program undertaken in the British Empire. Railways made up 80 percent of Britain’s industrial investment in India, relying on Indian tax payers to fund construction and early operations”(Sweeney, 57). The amount of money invested into this project for India was astronomical. Although it doesn’t seem like a lot for a nationwide advance in industrial progress, in the days it was built that amount was a fortune. They searched for different ways to bring in more funding for the project. Again, a quote from Stuart Sweeney, “Railway financiers and promoters could press commercial, strategic, and famine protective rationales, leaving them immune to criticism when commercial returns disappointed,”(Sweeney, 57) This statement leads to the deduction that even though collecting the necessary funding was difficult, they found ways to get the amount needed. However, all the labor, sacrifice, and hard work paid off as the railroads were a success right from the beginning all the way until today. Stated from the India Brand Equity Foundation’s website, India’s railroad brought in a total approximate earnings of $128,928.28 crore which is equivalent to $20.41 billion US dollars in a 10-month period prior to June, 2014. Considering the fact that British India invested just $274 million into the building of their railroad industry and are now making $20.41 billion in a 10-month time frame is mind blowing.
Much like the mountain that India had to navigate through to build their tunnel in the previous photograph, the people of Mexico also had obstacles to conquer in their goals to better themselves and their country. Both India and Mexico had similar goals that they would do anything to complete these railroads by any means necessary. Both of these countries are depending on these railroads for economic and social growth and to stay connected with the rest of the world. This last photograph is called “Viaducto de Jajalpa” taken by Abel Briquet around 1890. Although this photo has no people in it, the results of their labor are evident by the length, height, and complexity of the bridge they built over the ravine. Their success is evident just by the fact the train is successfully making it across the bridge. The viewer can imagine this train is on its way to pick up goods from one location and take them to another location. Goods that will increase Mexico’s economic structure, build towns, or feed people. This valuable asset is available only because of the common laborer who worked for low wages and put so much work into this project to make it possible for this country to take the next step forward in their industrial progression. In fact, the two empires of India and Mexico had the same vision of the need of their railroads. Stated by John H. Coatsworth in a text called Indispensable Railroads in a Backward Economy, “The railroads carried 15.8 million passengers and a total of more than a billion passenger-kilometers in 1910. While these passengers could have walked or traveled by stage at no extra pecuniary cost, they preferred the railroad because it was more comfortable, less traumatic, and safer”(Coatsworth, 952). The people of Mexico wanted the railroads! The people of Mexico needed the railroads! Several million people preferred railroad transportation over any other means of travel. I know that if it were my choice of having to sit on a train or have to ride on a horse or even a stagecoach, I would have chosen the comfort of a train.
Even though these two countries are on opposite sides of the world, these photographs demonstrate that India and Mexico had common goals. Both countries used their resources to build up their infrastructure to be able to keep up with the rapid growth of the industrial progression throughout the rest of the world. Both India and Mexico showed they didn’t let obstacles such as a mountain or a ravine stand in their way, and both countries knew that efficiency was a long-term necessity. However, most important are the Mexican and Indian workers who devoted their lives to these difficult projects with the same hopes and dreams of advancing their country and themselves. Who knew that just four photographs could share so much insight into a time in the history of two great countries?
Bogart, Dan. “Nationalizations and the Development of Transport Systems: Cross-Country Evidence from Railroad Networks, 1860–1912.where da white wimmin at” The Journal of Economic History. Vol. 69, No.1 (Mar., 2009), pp. 202-237.
Buddhadeb, Ghosh; Prabir, De. “Indian Ports and Globalisation: Grounding Economics in Geography”Economic and Political Weekly. Vol. 36, No. 34 (Aug. 25-31, 2001), pp. 3271-3283 Economic and Political Weekly
Coatsworth, John. “Indispensable Railroads in a Backward Economy: The Case of Mexico.” Pg. 952. JSTOR. December 1, 1979
Hardy, Osgood. “The Revolution and the Railroads of Mexico”. Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Sep., 1934): pp. 249. JStor.org (accessed April 27, 2015).
“Indian Railways.” Railways in India, Rail Way, Infrastructure, Industry. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Sweeney, Stuart. Indian Railroading: floating railroad companies in the late nineteenth century.pp. 57. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.
“The Story of Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) Now South Eastern Railway.” Angloindiacentral RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.