This narrative explains the current research on the textile industry in Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century and an example of how this database could be utilized to expand on this research.
Emergence of the Textile Industry in Mexico
Scholars of Mexican history have written a robust literature on the textile industry which often projects stability and growth over the course of the nineteenth century. In colonial Mexico, large textile workshops called obrajes proliferated that produced textiles for the region and local haciendas. By the nineteenth century, these obrjaes had greatly declined. Many scholars argue that imports from Britain of textiles produced with industrial technology seriously damaged the operation of obrajes and made the development of an industrial technology in Mexico textiles difficult. Richard Salvucci argues for broader reasons than simply the emergence of free trade with Britian to explain the obrajes’ decline, articulating how contraband textile smuggling along with indigenous revolts, the collapse of silver mining, and a credit crunch seriously impacted the ability of obrajes to survive. Yet certainly by the nineteenth century, foreign imports, through a combination of smuggling and free trade, had made producing textiles in Mexico far more challenging, including especially for smaller indigenous artisans.
Scholars argue that the growth of the industrial textile sector emerged in the mid-nineteenth century through protective measures and the Banco de Avió. In the early nineteenth century, Mexico and local states enacted a number of protective measures and tariff policies that allowed local factories to offer lower prices than the cheaper foreign competition from Britain and the United States. Money from the tariffs financed the Banco de Avío, a state industrial bank that offered loans and financial support to entrepreneurs who would construct businesses in the country. Many of the earliest textile factories relied on this funding for their establishment. Although by the 1840s much textile investment came from private funds, historians such as Robert Potash and Aurora Gómez-Galvarriato assert that these key early investments through the government set the stage for the textile industry to thrive.
Foreign investment had a key role in the establishment of early textile mills. Especially French, English, and German merchants, who had often come to Mexico for different commercial businesses, started partially or wholly owning textile factories. Machine parts for the mills came from abroad, often from the United States, and Jeffrey Bortz argues that the Mexican cotton industry constituted a part of early Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI). Factory owners also procured foreign technicians and managers to aid early establishment with the Banco de Avió paying for some of their employment. Sven Beckert argues that Mexico in the 1840s formed part of global industry, where investors and businesspeople across multiple continents collaborated to bring the cotton industry to areas across the globe. He embeds Mexico within a global cotton empire built on newly innovative industrial production, but emerging from a legacy of slavery and colonial dispossession. Mexican industrialists also emerged to invest in and build the industry, especially bankers such as Cayetano Rubio. The Mexican cotton factory industry emerged from a combination of foreign and local investment, skills, and knowledge.
By 1843, 47 mills had been established in Mexico. Geographically these Mill concentrated in a few regions in the early years, often in places where the colonial obrajes had been located. This indicates that indigenous skills with textile production became a key factor in the establishment of the industry. The state of Puebla emerged as the largest industrial center, containing nearly 40% of all spindles with another 20% located in the state of Mexico. Both Veracruz and Jalisco also emerged as important textile centers, with the city of Orizaba as one of the most significant locations. The location of these early textile factories mattered. They were often built in the interior of the country in order to not compete directly with foreign smuggling and imports, and firms constructed them close to water, markets for goods, and access to labor. However, over time, dispersion of the industry occured as factories became established outside of Puebla and Mexico, regions now accounting for just 46% of all spindles. By 1879, nearly every state had its own mills, as transportation costs and interstate trade fees made local production more profitable.
Modern Map of States of Mexico
Shapefile from Mark Hoel
The textile industry in Mexico did experience a significant expansion over the nineteenth century. From 1843 to 1879, looms expanded by 132% and spindles by 234%. Some down periods did occur, such as political instability from 1854 to 1867, although growth continued even during these years. In the early years, historian Carlos Alberto Murgueitio Manrique finds that protectionism and government promotion did not always lead to easy growth, as it damaged the robustness of internal demand and led to increased cotton import prices for raw materials that made it more difficult for firms to sustain lower prices. In addition, the U.S.-Mexican War (La intervención estadounidense en México) heavily disrupted the cotton industry. The destruction of the war, occupation of Mexico City, political damage to the state, and the debts owed to the United States from the devastating treaty of Guadalupe Hilgado hampered the ability of the Mexican state to aid the textile industry, which suffered from a lack of investment to replace and enhance its machinery.  Yet Gómez-Galvarriato asserts that lifting the ban on cotton raw cotton in 1856, Mexico’s own cultivation of cotton, and Mexican involvement with the Confederacy’s cotton trade during the Civil War helped the textile industry to grow. Technology also changed over the course of the nineteenth century. In the 1840s, most looms relied on hand labor, but power looms emerged even in these early years. By 1879, 70% of power came from steam. Nor did labor efficiency seem too far behind industrial epicenters such as the United States. One study found that in Puebla, factories sustained a ratio of 23.1 spindles to worker, quite similar to early industrialization in the U.S. Scholars have debated the efficiency of the number of looms to worker, with some concluding that probably that Mexico lagged somewhat behind the U.S. and Britain.
What about the workers in the factories? Robert Potash argues that in addition to lower prices of cotton made in Mexico, the industry had a positive impact on cities with a concentration of factory workers. In places such as Orizaba, factories created jobs and expanded the population. The establishment of cotton factories also lead to more employment in the construction, transportation and even entertainment industries. Potash does acknowledge that industrial factories may have reduced the employment of women who generated income from spinning, but finds that while some factories employed more men, others employed more women. Most workers in factories labored for twelve hours a day, but had many festivals and holidays off from work. In contrast to Potash’s assessment, John Tutino asserts that the establishment of textile factories in Mexico had a devastating impact on employment in textiles, for male artisans, but also particularly for women who had relied on spinning as a way to survive and supplement their income. This new industrial production harmed their ability to make ends meet and reinforced patriarchy, as Tutino observes cases of domestic violence increased with the establishment of textile factories. In addition, paternalism governed Mexican factories, where owners envisioned the factory as a patriarchal family to justify exploitative labor practices. Ramos-Escandón argues that industrialist Estevan de Antunano employed women in his factory, but hoped that the social formation of the family would govern the workplace and reproduce traditional systems of male power and discipline for women workers.
Everyday Labor and Protest
Ramos-Escandón also describes some details on the everyday working life of female factory workers in El Tunal, a factory that started production in the 1840s. Hours of work began at 7am and did not finish until 7pm, although those responsible for operating looms kept laboring until 12pm, so late that many worked by candlelight or oil. In order to keep the pace of the factory and the machines operating, workers labored in two shifts. Workers did receive a break at some point in the morning or the afternoon in order to eat and rest. This may indicate that workers had some agency and power over their working lives, and the capability to negotiate or demand a break during the day.
A heterogenous workforce labored in the different factories across Mexico with differing degrees of skills. In El Tunal, some American factory operatives and managers arrived to direct operations and train workers. While in the mills such La Constancia Mexicana in Puebla, management relied on a long history of indigenous and mestizo cloth making, building on workers’ knowledge and skills. These women had experience both working in obrajes and making cotton goods at home, and the rise of factories, had led many to struggle without stable ways of sustaining their communities. The instability forced them into work for factory owners and to utilize their knowledge to produce goods that enriched local elites and foreign entrepreneurs. 
However, workers did resist poor working conditions. Mario Trujilo Bolio describes the worker protests of the late 1860s that occurred in the textile factories of the Valley of Mexico. Workers most fervently protested the hours of work, which stretched to 15 hours a day. If workers arrived past the beginning of work, even for a minute, they did not receive any compensation for the day and could be fired. Workers also protested unfair dismissals of workers and reductions in wages. This was often connected to the payment of wages in vouchers, which workers often had to spend at a company store or with local merchants. This payment scheme led to many workers spending all their salaries in these businesses or ended up in debt. In response, workers launched protests against factory ownership, complained to the government, and participating in strikes and work stoppages. These were well organized protests, and worker eventually began forming mutual aid associations, early precursors to unions, with socialist organizing appearing among activists. 
Mario Camarena Ocampo also details the lives and work of factory workers in San Ángel, near Mexico City, from 1850 to 1930. According to Ocampo, many of those who worked in the factory were campesinos, farmers and day laborers from the country. At first, these workers often utilized wages from the factory as supplemental income that provided money for families to expand their farming activities, pay taxes, or have enough resources to pay for major life events such as marriage. Over time, family life and labor became more tightly bound around the factory. Workers often moved around to find available factory work due to the opening and closure of mills with changing production schedules. Differing river flows that kept factories powered or the volatility of the cotton market could impact the operation of factories. Factory workers tended to be younger with a majority below the age of 30, and a substantial number between 10 and 20 years old. In addition to farmers and laborers, many artisans who had lost employment as a result of industrialization became supervisory employees within the factories. These workers could even gain a bit of control over production due to their skills and ability to train others.
Women and children who worked in the factory in San Ángel often occupied a subordinate position, completing the most monotonous and least creative tasks. As life became more attached factories, those who did not work in the factory spent more time taking care of those elders and children who could not work and participated in maintaining household labor. Family life became attached to the mills and entire communities sprang up around factories. From the very beginning, mills had often included schools built by owners, where workers learned the skills needed to operate machine and basic writing and reading. However, starting around 1850, workers began to have to pay for teachers themselves, often leading to issues maintaining schools. The linkage between social life and work became a part of the paternalism practiced by factory owners. Housing was built to surround the factory, chapels installed on the grounds, and as with those workers in the Valley of Mexico, workers in San Ángel had to spend much of their earnings in company stores. Paternalism included rewards for obedient workers and punishment and oppression for those who disobeyed. For this reason, owners such as Cayetano Rubio were described as patriarchs by their workers, but also grossly mistreated their employees, even locking them in cells within the factory. Owners often exhibited an extensive control over workers, even deciding what types of sermons they heard or the items that could be purchased in the local stores.
Factory owners and the discipline they hoped to instill competed against the culture of campesinos. According to Ocampo, the agrarian lifestyle in which many campesinos were raised conflicted with the pace of the factory, and this first generation of factory workers attempted to main a continuity of cultural practice. Yet many different reactions to factory life occurred including embracing industrial life, combining new and old forms of living, and outright rejection of factory life, sometimes manifested through protest over production schedules and hours of work. Catholicism and syncretic festivals also occupied a large portion of life for workers and became an important part of both the paternalist philosophy and struggles for resistance. Throughout this time period in San Ángel, workers participated in numerous strikes, protests and challenges to factory authority. Some workers articulated their lost artisanal past, while many rallied around the idea of citizenship expressed in derecho ciudadano. This idea built off the rhetoric of the constitution of 1857 and argued for equality between owners and workers. This held an especially nationalist tone as many factory owners during this period were foreigners who presence demonstrated how economic imperialism continued expropriation in daily life. The general vagueness of this idea of rights also fostered multiple catholic, liberal, anarchist and socialist interpretations of collective action and heterogeneous politics among workers.
Aurora Gómez-Galvarriato. Industry and Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013
Camarena, Mario. Jornaleros, Tejedores y Obreros: Historia Social De Los Trabajadores Textiles De San Ángel (1850-1930). México, D.F.: Plaza y Valdes, 2001.
Carlos Alberto Murgueitio Manrique. “La industria textil del centro de México, un proyecto inconcluso de modernización económica, 1830-1845.” HistereLo 7, no. 13 (enero – junio de 2015).
Carlos Illades. “La empresa industrial de estevan de Antuñano (1831-1847).” Secuencia: revista de historia y ciencias sociales, no. 15 (September 1989): 28–46
Carmen Ramos-Escandón. Industrialización, género y trabajo femenino en el sector textil mexicano: el obraje, la fábrica y la compañía industrial. México, D.F.: CIESAS, 2004.
David G. Lafrance. “The Mexican Cotton Textile Industry and Its Workers.” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 19, No. 2 (Summer 2003): 463-479.
David A. Walker. Kinship, Business, and Politics: The Martínez del Río Family in Mexico, 1823–1867. Austin: University of Texas Press; 1986.
Eric Van Young. A Life Together: Lucas Alaman and Mexico, 1792-1853. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021.
Yasmín Hernández Romero and Galindo Sosa, Raúl V. “La industria textil en el Estado de México, retos y perspectivas.” Espacios Públicos 9, núm. 17, febrero, 2006, pp. 422-435.
Howard F. Cline. “The ‘Aurora Yucateca’ and the Spirit of Enterprise in Yucatan, 1821-1847.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 27, no. 1 (1947): 30–60.
Jeffrey Bortz. “Mexican Textile Workers from Conquest to Globalization.” In Heerma van Voss, Lex., Els. Hiemstra-Kuperus, and Elise van. Nederveen Meerkerk. The Ashgate Companion to the History of Textile Workers, 1650-2000. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010.
John Tutino. The Mexican Heartland: How Communities Shaped Capitalism, a Nation, and World History, 1500-2000, 173–210. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2018.
Kathryn A. Sloan. “Disobedient Daughters and the Liberal State: Generational Conflicts over Marriage Choice in Working Class Families in Nineteenth-Century Oaxaca, Mexico.” The Americas 63, no. 4 (2007): 615–48.
Mario Trujillo Bolio. “Protesta y resistencia de los trabajadores textiles en el Valle de México y su relación con los circuitos comerciales mexicano-estadounidenses (1865-1868).” Iztapalapa, no. 43 (1998): 279–304.
Robert Potash. Mexican Government and Industrial Development in the Early Republic: the Banco De Avio. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983
Sven Beckert. Empire of Cotton: a Global History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Vinson, Ben, and Matthew Restall, eds. Black Mexico: Race and Society from Colonial to Modern Times. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2009.
William E. French; Prostitutes and Guardian Angels: Women, Work, and the Family in Porfirian Mexico. Hispanic American Historical Review 72, no.4 (1992): 529–553.
 Gómez-Galvarriato, Aurora. Industry and Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013, 6.
 Salvucci, Richard J. Textiles and Capitalism in Mexico: an Economic History of the Obrajes, 1539-1840. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987, 135-175.
 Potash, Robert A. Mexican Government and Industrial Development in the Early Republic: the Banco De Avio. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983, 163-164.
 Potash, Mexican Government and Industrial Development in the Early Republic, 149-151; Gómez-Galvarriato, Industry and Revolution, 8-9.
 Potash, 151-154; Bortz, Jeffrey. “Mexican Textile Workers from Conquest to Globalization.” In Heerma van Voss, Lex., Els. Hiemstra-Kuperus, and Elise van. Nederveen Meerkerk. The Ashgate Companion to the History of Textile Workers, 1650-2000. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2010, 339-340; Tutino, John. The Mexican Heartland: How Communities Shaped Capitalism, a Nation, and World History, 1500-2000, 173–210. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2018, 184.
 Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: a Global History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, 148-183.
 Potash 148-150.
 Gómez-Galvarriato, 14-15.
 Ibid, 12-13.
 Murgueitio Manrique, Carlos Alberto. “La industria textil del centro de México, un proyecto inconcluso de modernización económica, 1830-1845.” HistereLo 7, no. 13 (enero – junio de 2015), 71; Hernández Romero, Yasmín and Galindo Sosa, Raúl V. “La industria textil en el Estado de México, retos y perspectivas.” Espacios Públicos 9, núm. 17, febrero, 2006, pp. 424.
 Gómez-Galvarriato, 14.
 Potash, 147-148.
 Gómez-Galvarriato, 13.
 Potash, 158-159.
 Potash, 155-160.
 Tutino, The Mexican Heartland, 188-190
 Bortz, “Mexican Textile Workers from Conquest to Globalization,” 341.
 Ramos-Escandón, Carmen. Industrialización, Género y Trabajo Femenino En El Sector Textil Mexicano: El Obraje, La Fábrica y La Compañía Industrial. México, D.F.: CIESAS, 2004, 100-110.
 Ramos-Escandón, Carmen. Industrialización, Género y Trabajo Femenino En El Sector Textil Mexicano, 119-120, 123-125.
 Trujillo Bolio, Mario. “Protesta y resistencia de los trabajadores textiles en el Valle de México y su relación con los circuitos comerciales mexicano-estadounidenses (1865-1868).” Iztapalapa, no. 43 (1998): 279–304.
 Mario Camarena. Jornaleros, Tejedores y Obreros: Historia Social De Los Trabajadores Textiles De San Ángel (1850-1930). México, D.F.: Plaza y Valdes, 2001.
 Camarena. Jornaleros, Tejedores y Obreros.