Economic Development and Living Standards in Late 19th-Century Mexico: The Mechanization of Nixtamal Dough and Corn Tortilla Production

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:50 PM
Room 203 (Colorado Convention Center)
Aurora Gomez Galvarriato, Colegio de México

From 1880 to 1930 Mexico experienced important economic development that resulted from the adoption of technological changes that came about with the second industrial revolution. This paper explores the impact of these changes on the standards of living of the population. In particular it looks at the transformation of the production of Mexico’s basic staple: corn tortilla and other food made with nixtamal dough. Until the 1870s their production continued to be carried out manually using the same technology that had been developed since pre-hispanic times. It was an extenuating labor carried out mostly by indigenous women. During the 1880s their production was gradually transformed, first through the introduction of manual metal tools and later through the development of fossil fuel or electricity powered mills, and tortilla making machinery. New technologies spread slowly from cities to rural areas. Their diffusion has not encompassed the whole country even today, however it took a big leap during the period studied. This paper tries to assess the impact of this transformation on the living standards of the working classes and in particular of those of indigenous women.