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BY ALICE FOSTER Orizaba is one of the few important industrial cities of Mexico. Among the cotton-manufacturing centers of the Republic it holds first place, its six mills containing more than one-fifth of the entire Mexican cotton spindleage' and producing approximately one-fourth of the cotton-goods output of the country. Its principal factories are the largest and best equipped in the country, ranking, in essential characteristics, among the larger mills of North America. The making of cotton cloth is an industry long established in the district, and its development has kept pace with the progress of the community from primitive to modern life.

The Orizaba textile industry is of the modern large-scale type and does not lose its significance when considered apart from its situation in non-industrial Mexico. Could the district, with its industries intact, be removed to a location within the boundaries of Massachusetts, Orizaba would rank as the fifth cotton-manufacturing city of the state. The 6,000 cotton operatives employed in its mills outnumber those similarly employed in Lawrence, and the estimated value of the 1909 output was nearly one-eighth that of Fall River.4

The product of the Orizaba mills is of wide variety, and the better-grade goods are the finest made in Mexico. High quality is obtained through the use of up-to-date equipment and methods. The machinery is of British make and is modern in every respect. The managers are French or British, and the work of the various departments is supervised by men trained in the Manchester district of England. The mills are equipped for the entire sequence of manufacturing processes, including bleaching, dyeing, printing, napping,

* From the Department of Geology, Mount Holyoke College. Read before Association of American Geographers, Cincinnati, 1923.

Commerce Reports, Oct. 16, 1920, p. 232, and statements by manufacturers. ? Based on distribution of sales tax (unpublished).

* Data from Thirteenth Census of the United States and from statements made (1921) by Chambers of Commerce of the respective cities.

*Thirteenth Census of the U. S. and Bulletin Pan American Union, Vol. 31, p. 1058 (Quoted from statistics of Mexican Department of Finance).

and mercerizing. Some of the Orizaba cottons are of such quality that, bearing the stamp, “Manchester, England,” they are sold as imported goods. This fact is the more significant since large quantities of British textiles really are imported into Mexico under a tariff which excludes all but the finer fabrics.

This industrial city occupies a narrow valley on the Gulf slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental. From Veracruz it is reached over the Mexican Railway, the four-hour journey of eighty miles involving an ascent of 4,000 feet. Above Orizaba the mountain front is steeper even than below, and in a two-hour run the west-bound trains climb to the rim of the Central Plateau, 8,000 feet above sea level. The site, except as modern railroad facilities have rendered it accessible, is difficult of approach both from above and from below. High mountains press close upon the city as if to limit the commercial interests of the inhabitants. On the west El Cerro del Borrego is so close that throughout most of the year the sunset is as early as 4 or 5 o'clock. The mountain barrier is broken, however, to the east and the west, and through these gaps passes a difficult mountain highway, over which world commerce has been carried on for several hundred years. Location on this trade route has been one of the great advantages of Orizaba in all stages of its development.

The growth of an industrial city of 50,000 in this restricted mountain valley has been accomplished through the utilization of outstanding advantages. Manufacturers cite as the chief attractions of the district its abundant power and its supply of cheap labor. These advantages are complex in their relationship to the natural environment, but the relationship is definite, and to the geographer the advantages resolve themselves into various conditions of surface, rock structure, climate, soil, and location. To these has been added the artificial advantage of a protected market.

Orizaba is a notable water-power site, the amount available within a few miles of the city being estimated at 100,000 horsepower. There had been developed in 1921 something more than 50,000 horsepower. The Rio Blanco, which, with its tributaries, supplies the power, is not a large stream, and its source is only about twenty miles from Orizaba. It has, however, a steep gradient, for it drains an area whose surface slope for seventy miles averages

Data supplied by British Vice-consul S. W. Stacpole. & Idem.




Sketch Map Canton

of Orizaba

☐ Cotton Mill

4 Hydro-Electric Plant

• Agricultural Village or Estate



Scale approximately 500,000

The canton is a clearly defined natural unit, whose boundaries are barriers. Orizaba, located at the focus of converging valleys, is the economic and commercial center of the canton. Radiating roads indicate valley routes to the agricultural villages and estates for which the city is the market center.

100 feet to the mile. Interruption of the gradient at Orizaba leads to a remarkable concentration of power. The general course of the Rio Blanco is transverse to the strike, with the strata dipping up stream at high angles, and with the individual strata outcropping repeatedly because of the prevalence of faults.” For several miles in the vicinity of Orizaba the river flows in an open valley. In this part of its course the main stream is joined by several tributaries and its volume is trebled. The convergence of tributaries at this point seems to grow out of the partial adjustment of drainage to structure, and apparently is related to the outcrop of resistant strata across the path of the main stream. Near the eastern border of the city the Rio Blanco breaks across the barrier imposed by the complex mountain structure and drops 100 feet into a canyon. Within five miles it falls 1,300 feet. The successive steps in its descent are marked by five hydro-electric plants, which develop 1,500 to 25,000 horsepower each. Through the utilization of this power resource, Orizaba, located in the midst of magnificent scenery, is an industrial city guiltless of smoke.

The water which supplies Orizaba with power is received from a comparatively small drainage basin, hence the amount and distribution of rainfall are critical factors. At this point the Mexican highland presents to the incoming trades a bold front which culminates in Mt. Orizaba, 18,000 feet above sea level. The city of Orizaba, located at the foot of the snow-capped volcano, has an annual rainfall averaging well above 100 inches. The major portion of the moisture is received as sudden drenching showers during the tropical rainy season, but the winters are not dry. Whenever a wellmarked high-pressure area is so located that a strong “norther" blows across Texas and the Gulf, the valleys at the foot of the snow-capped peak fill with clouds, and gentle, drizzly rains occur, which continue often for a week or more. The months of the northern spring constitute the driest part of the year, but occasional thunder storms occur within this season.

Several accompanying conditions which influence the rate of

Bose: "Geol. de Orizaba", in Boletin del Instituto Geológico de México, No. 13.

* Naredo: Orizaba, Vol. II, p. 25.
Data supplied by S. W. Stacpoole.

Based on a comparison of U. S. weather maps with day to day weather record supplied by E. Mayer and covering January, February, and March, 1921.






run-off tend to make the river régime less variable than the marked seasonable distribution of rainfall and the prevalence of steep slopes would suggest. The mountains are covered with forests which are characterized by dense undergrowth. Solution channels are common, and through these channels much of the rainfall reaches the valley level, there to emerge as enormous springs. One of these "ojos de agua,” located near the factory suburbs of Nogales, has volume sufficient to float a boat right up to the base of the mountain. The water from this spring supplies power for one of the smaller cotton mills, while a similar stream east of the city furnishes 2,800 horsepower at a site about two miles from its source. Drainage from the perennial snow fields on the upper slopes of Mt. Orizaba reaches the tributaries of the Rio Blanco and adds one more influence in favor of regularity in stream flow. For the purpose of illustrating the effectiveness of these equalizing influences, the Orizaba River may be cited. This small tributary of the Rio Blanco is the chief source of the domestic water supply for the city. No storage is provided, and the gradient of the river is sufficient to furnish pressure without the aid of pumping, yet so plentiful is the supply that in most of the houses water flows constantly from the taps. Only for a few weeks during the comparatively dry season from April to June do users of water for domestic purposes or for power experience any scarcity.

The existence of cheap labor is related closely to the agricultural productivity of the district and to its intermediate location between the contrasted regions of the Central Plateau and the Eastern Tierra Caliente. Because of their productivity and their location the group of valleys which converge at Orizaba were occupied by a fairly dense population before the establishment of the mills. This population was the source of the initial labor supply, and at present local production accounts for a large proportion of the food consumed by the industrial population, thereby exerting an influence on the cost of living, and consequently, on the wage scale.

Surface conditions restrict the amount of arable land, but the climate is humid, insolation is intense, and the soil is remarkably productive. The valleys are floored with alluvium derived largely from the neighboring limestone slopes and mixed with igneous material from Mt. Orizaba. The slobe is sufficient to give adequate drainage for the agricultural land of the valley bottoms. The frost line is somewhere within the next thousand feet above Orizaba, thus

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