From 1876 to 1911, Mexico was ruled by the military strongman Porfirio Díaz Mori (1830 -1915), who presided over an era of unprecedented political stability, economic growth and scientific progress, known as the ‘Porfiriato’. One of Díaz’s signature modernization projects was the creation in 1877 of the Comisión Geográfico-Exploradora (CGE), a national mapping agency whose principal objective was to systematically and scientifically map all of Mexico’s territory. The envisaged grand national map, the Carta de la Republica Mexicana, á la 100 000a, was to consist of 1,100 interconnecting sheets done to a uniform scale of 1:100,000, and to a consistent size and format. This was an astoundingly ambitious undertaking, and while stellar work was accomplished by exceedingly competent and dedicated military engineers, by the time that the CGE’s work was suspended during the Mexican Revolution (1910-20), only 204 of the planned map sheets had been completed, as only areas in Central and North-western Mexico had been mapped to a sufficient standard to warrant their inclusion in the programme.
The sheets of the Carta de la Republica Mexicana were issued separately as standalone maps, although each sheet could be merged with adjacent sheets to expand the picture. Thus, importantly, the present work is complete publication in and of itself. The first sheets were published by the CGE in Mexico City in 1886, with more sheets appearing gradually every year thereafter. Some of the more important sheets were issued in multiple updated editions over the years.
The present sheet is of the 3rd of three editions of the Mexico City sheet (Hoja 19-I-(M)), dated 1909; the 1st edition was issued around 1890, while the 2nd edition was published in 1907.
The present map depicts Mexico City and its environs as it appeared three decades into the Porfiriato, during which it had been radically transformed from a somewhat ramshackle colonial centre into a grand modern showpiece city worthy of the capital of large and ambitious republic. Díaz, modelling the urban plan on Paris, had Mexico City ‘Hausmannized’, creating grand boulevards and squares lined with French-inspired edifices, as well as the construction of many monumental and fabulously expensive pubic buildings. Adding to this was a ‘Railway Boom’ whereby Mexico City became the hub of vast network of lines connecting it with the rest of the country.
At the time that the present map was published Mexico City was a large modern metropolis with population of around 500,000 (but still a far cry from the population of today’s metropolitan area which stands at 21.6 million!).
On the present map, one can clearly see the dense urban blocks, coloured in orange, and the new neighbourhoods then being built to the south and west, coloured in grisaille, while numerous named rail lines run in all directions into the countryside. Marking the transition between old and new, this development is juxtaposed against the appearance of the lakes and swamps that typified Mexico City’s colonial surroundings, and which were yet to be fully drained and developed. All considered, the present map presents a fascinating picture of metropolitan Mexico City on the eve of the explosive population growth that would make it one of the world’s largest urban conglomerations.
On the present sheet, in the area below the map proper, are tables of geodetic coordinates, plus information on how the CGE executed the surveys in the Mexico City area. Of special interest is the ‘Diagrama de operaciones’ a key map which illustrates the different components of the survey. The format of the present sheet is, by design, precisely the same as that of all the other Carta de la Republica Mexicana sheets.
A Note on Rarity
All sheets from the Carta de la Republica Mexicana are today rare. We cannot trace an example of the 1st edition (1890) and can locate only a single example of the 2nd edition (1907), held by the David Rumsey Map Collection. We can trace only 3 examples of the present 3rd edition (1909) in institutional collections, held by the Museo Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Mexicanos; the University of Chicago Library; and at the Queen’s University Library (Kingston, Ontario).
The ‘Porfiriato’ & the Comisión Geográfico-Exploradora
The ‘Porfiriato’, being the 35-year long presidency of Porfirio Díaz Mori (1876 – 1911) marked an era of unprecedented political stability, economic growth and scientific progress. Following decades of economic stagnation, internal instability, and foreign invasions that robbed Mexico of a third of her territory and much of her potential, Díaz restored his nation’s pride, forming a strong, modern state. That being said, the Porfiriato, which collapsed into a decade of revolutionary turmoil, holds a controversial legacy, as it also saw profligate corruption, cronyism, political repression and rising income inequality.
Díaz succeeded in rapidly modernizing Mexico, fostering industrialization, international trade and investment, infrastructure programs, privatization, educational reforms, and advancements in science. His agenda was anchored in several developments that would rely greatly on accurate cartography. First, was the privatization of vast amounts of federal land. Second, was fostering the ‘Railway Boom’ (very much evident upon the present map!) that utterly transformed the country. Third, was the professionalization and deployment of the armed forces to secure the countryside and the integrity of the republic’s borders. Fourth, were programs to improve land management, especially with respect to agriculture and forestry. Fifth, maps were required to manage industrialization, urban growth and mining.
Upon Díaz’s assumption of the presidency in 1876, his administration was confronted by a challenge – there were very few regional maps of Mexico that were sufficiently accurate for operational planning, nor were there any general maps of the country sufficiently accurate for strategic planning. While the established official map of the republic, Antonio Garcia y Cubas’s Carta General de la Republica Mexicana (Mexico, 1863), represented a spectacular achievement, given the chaotic circumstances under which it was prepared, it featured serious geodetic inaccuracies that undercut its effectiveness as an administrative aid. Moreover, there was no central body to manage mapping programs across the country or to arrange for the publication of official maps.
In response, in 1877, Díaz formed the Comisión Geográfico-Exploradora (CGE), an autonomous institute that was charged with surveying the republic and publishing official maps. While technically, under the supervision of the Secretaria de Formento, Colonización e Industria (the Ministry of Public Works, Colonization and Industry), most of its field staff were military engineers.
The CGE’s ultimate goal was the execution of a systematic scientific survey of the entire country, with a view to forming the Carta de la Republica Mexicana á la 100,000a, a massive map of a planned 1,100 sheets (the ‘map’ part of each measuring 40 x 53 cm), done to a large scale of 1.58 miles to an inch. While the CGE initially envisaged that the survey would be conducted by the advanced standards of triangulation, due to the size of the country and staffing limitations ensured that they had to settle for more modest scientific standards. This would consist of measuring basepoints precisely by astronomical observations and then surveying the countryside in between through route traverse mapping, aided by compasses and perambulators. This ‘old school method’ nevertheless produced results that prove to be, on average, accurate to within one-hundredth of a percent.
It was recognized from the outset that this mega-project would take many years to complete. The surveying for the Carta de la Republica Mexicana project commenced in the relatively developed regions of eastern Mexico, stretching from the U.S. border down though Veracruz state and then inland to Mexico City.
Meanwhile, to facilitate the on-going implementation of its agenda while awaiting the completion of the CGE’s grand project, the Díaz administration commissioned private surveyors to conduct cadastral surveys across the country, while private corporations (ex. railway and mining companies) made maps related to their activities. Moreover, local governments commissioned surveys of various kinds. While the quality of the resulting maps varied greatly, they were generally a vast improvement over those that existed before, and cumulatively provided a wealth of information towards an accurate general national map (albeit subject to careful editing).
As some of the sheets from the CGE’s epic project were completed and the various private and local government surveys arrived in Mexico City, every once and while the Ministry of Public Works commissioned official general maps of the republic based on the compilation of available information, representing ‘interim’ steps toward the eventual goal. These notably included the great wall maps: Carta general de la Republica Mexicana formada en el Ministerio de Fomento con los datos mas recientes por disposicion del Secretario del Ramo General Carlos Pacheco (1890); and Manuel Fernández Leal’s Carta General De La República Mexicana (1894, reissued 1899); with both followed by various unofficial derivatives.
By 1910, the CGE had measured over 800 geodetic basepoints and the Carta de la Republica Mexicana programme had systematically measured 210,708 km2 of territory, equal to over one-fifth of Mexico’s area, encompassing its most populated regions. This mapping comprised 197 of the envisaged 1,100 sheets, and covered all the states of Nuevo Léon, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, Puebla, Morelos, Tlaxcala and the Federal District, as well as parts of Mexico State, Sonora and Chihuahua. This led to the production of Olegario Molina Solís’s Carta General de la Republica Mexicana Formada en la Secretaria de Fomento por disposicon del Secretario del Ramo, Lic. Olegario Molina (Mexico City, 1910), the finest and most complete national map resulting from the CGE’s endeavours.
Meanwhile, the Díaz regime was not long for this world. A series of political missteps by the octogenarian president, coupled with rising popular discontent, had empowered the administration’s enemies. Armed insurrections began to break out in the country in November 1910, and by May 1911, President Díaz was forced to relinquish his office and flee the country. The Mexican Revolution (1910-20) represented a decade of armed revolts, assassinations and a revolving door of governments, so dramatic and bewilderingly complex that it defies summation here.
The Revolution naturally had a devastating impact upon the CGE. First, as most of its field staff was military engineers, they were suddenly spirited from its ranks in favour of combat duty. Second, the constant turmoil brought civilian surveys across the country to a halt. Third, many of the Revolutionary leaders of Mexico had a particular distain for the CGE, an organization that was so intimately linked to the Porfiriato and its policies. Thus, from early 1911 onwards, the CGE was essentially on hiatus, although it would officially remain in operation until its dissolution on the orders of President Venustiano Carranza in 1918.
While the Carta de la Republica Mexicana was never completed as planned, the excellent mapping that was accomplished formed a stellar basis upon which Mexican cartography was able to progress in the era of national reconstruction that commenced in the 1920s.
References: University of Chicago Library: G4410 s100 .M4 19-I; OCLC: 268803523; [Background:] B. García Martínez ‘La Comisión Geográfico-Exploradora’, Historia Mexicana, no. 96, vol. xxiv (1975), pp. 485-555; R.H. Holden, ‘Priorities of the State in the Survey of the Public Land in Mexico, 1876-1911’, The Hispanic American Historical Review, vol. 70, no. 4 (Nov. 1990), pp. 579-608.