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date: 22 August 2017

Mexico’s Ministry of Communications and Public Works

Summary and Keywords

The Ministry of Communications and Public Works, the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas, or SCOP, was a powerful institution that accompanied Mexico along important historic eras: the Porfiriato, or rule by Porfirio Díaz; the Mexican Revolution; the reconstruction decades of the 1920s and 1930s; World War II; and the subsequent decades of economic, demographic, and political growth. SCOP responded to global and political crises by helping defend and protect the nation in a unique way: by ensuring that Mexico had strong and stable buildings, rivers, causeways, etc. SCOP also unified Mexico from the inside, quite literary. Since 1861, when the Ministry was established, to 1958, when it dissolved and became the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes, progress was measured in the number of kilometers of paved roads and telegraph and telephone lines, in the number of bridges, damns, tunnels, canals, and radio stations in operation, as well as in the state of new or restored government offices, hospitals, post offices, telegraph buildings, schools, and other public structures it was commanded to construct.

The Ministry was responsible for constructing and maintaining a wide range of public services, from the telegraph to the drainage system, to canal and tunnel construction, to the management of ports and building government schools. Understanding its impact, then, requires bringing together the role that art, architecture, local and regional political forces, international events, and new advances in technology and mass communication had on Mexican society. In a more deliberate way than other government bodies, SCOP was in a perpetual state of revision and renewal; the word most frequently used to describe new and existing projects was transformation. Every action the Ministry took was intended to integrate and unify the nation, both symbolically and factually. SCOP leaders always looked to the future and worked to ensure that as a nation Mexico was well connected and prepared for what was to come.

Keywords: communications, public works, progress, transformation, Ley General de Vías de Comunicacion, telegraph, telephone, railroad, highways, broadcasting, airplanes, drainage system

Organization and Noteworthy Legislation

The head of Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas, or SCOP, was the minister, or secretario, an individual recruited by the central government from different professions. Over the years secretario backgrounds included engineering, military, and, of course, politics. On several occasions there was a direct connection between the acting president and the SCOP secretario. This took place during the 1940s when Maximino Ávila Camacho was in charge of SCOP while his brother, Manuel Ávila Camacho, was Mexico’s president. On other occasions, the secretario was in a position of power before or after his tenure at SCOP. For example, several years before he became president, Pascual Ortiz Rubio was secretario of comunicaciones under President Alvaro Obregón.

The Ministry was organized into direcciones, or units. The number of direcciones fluctuated in size and importance over the years. During the late 1930s, for example, SCOP was separated into the Dirección General de Correos y Telegrafos, Dirección Nacional de Caminos, Dirección General de Construcción de Ferrocarriles, and the Dirección General de Marina y Puertos.1 Additional units aggregated and often deducted included post office, marine and ports, aeronautical services, and hydraulic operations; the Ministry’s core, however, always included a dirección responsible for telecommunications, roads, and railroads. Additionally, there was an administrative, technical, legislative, and construction office, or department, within SCOP. After all, the Ministry’s workers were doing the actual construction of government buildings. The legal office played an important role and collected a substantial amount of money from concessions and fees over the years. In order to avoid economic disparity, during World War II the office increased fees for the railroad, telephone, aviation, and broadcast communications services, for instance.2 The number of people employed by the Ministry fluctuated during each sexenio, or six-year presidential term. As a rule, political leaders continued the work of their predecessors; adding new projects and departments came about only when the current economic situation made it possible.

A number of laws were passed in Mexico directly affecting or relating to the work that SCOP was commanded to do during the 19th and 20th centuries. SCOP was directly involved in creating important laws and decrees overlapping the government’s reconstruction project, especially during the 1920s and 1930s. The most important was the Ley General de Vías de Comunicacion, passed under the administration of Pascual Ortiz Rubio in 1931. Mexican mass media policy, it has been explained, was propelled by nationalism, a desire to control the population, and the need to unite everyone under the same political party.3 When it was enacted, the law included regulations regarding the administration, construction, and supervision of railroads, roads, bridges, and electrical, areal, and postal communications, as well as the control of maritime travel.4 In subsequent decades, the law was amended, always under the guiding principle that the nation’s citizens needed to benefit the most from the changes made to their communications and public works systems.

The Early Years of SCOP, 1861–1910

After obtaining its independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government faced a unique problem: a lack of government buildings in the nation’s capital, Mexico City. Having been a Spanish colony for nearly three hundred years, Mexico had functioned with limited political representation and therefore maintained a small number of government offices. In fact, the bulk of Mexico City’s buildings in the centro histórico, or downtown, belonged to the Catholic Church. To political leaders, it was important for the new nation to construct new structures whose primary role was political, a physical place to control and govern the new nation.5 Although it was not recognized as the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas until the 1860s, the office that would later become SCOP built the capital city’s first government buildings.

One of SCOP’s first assignments in the mid-19th century was the preservation and upkeep of the Palacio Nacional and the Castillo de Chapultepec; the former, the seat of government in dire need of repair at the time and the latter the president’s residence, strategically situated on the top of a hill in the Chapultepec forest. The reason that the interior and exterior of both historic sites look the way they do today, scholars claim, is because of SCOP’s efforts during the late 19th and early 20th century preserving them.6

When Porfirio Díaz took power in 1876, he imposed a belief system that accepted—and sometimes even exalted—foreign influence. The Porfiriato is characterized by many things, including Díaz’s enactment of a series of large-scale public works projects. Regarding communications it is known as a time when foreign investors aided Mexico’s modernization projects throughout the nation, most notably the construction of hundreds and thousands of miles of railroad lines, which the Ministry was responsible for overseeing. Another characteristic of the Porfiriato was the planning and construction of monuments and government structures. Many of the members in Díaz’s cabinet saw colonial buildings as obstacles of progress, making architecture a feasible way to bring real change to Mexico.7

In the capital city, SCOP oversaw the construction of notable—and, today, iconic—buildings and monuments such as the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Palacio Postal, and El Monumento a la Independencia. Díaz entrusted foreign architects to draft plans for the new buildings, Italian, Spanish, and French men who saw themselves as agents of modernity. The architects working for SCOP during the Porfiriato received their training in Europe and were familiar with Old World traditions and styles yet were tasked to bring past and present together in the rapidly changing world of the late 19th century. Instead of Romantic, Gothic, Baroque, and other genres associated with the colonial era, the new styles for Mexico were intended to be progressive. The goal had been to emphasize the image of a new and modern Mexico.

When new government buildings or monuments were completed and unveiled before the people, the event was always a public spectacle: crowds gathered and admired the work and talent of skilled artisans and planners who used the latest technology and materials. For decades, government buildings were the most prominent and ornate structures in Mexico City, a feature highlighting SCOP’s role and importance in the nation. When the Palacio Postal was completed, for example, it was the tallest building in the capital (it has four floors) and one of the first to include an elevator, a symbol of the advanced technology of the era and SCOP’s ability to use it.8 In fact, scholars argue that the uniqueness of SCOP’s first public works projects lies not in their appearance, but in the technology used to build them.9 Government workers used steel to create solid foundations, experimented with concrete, polished marble for their exterior, built elevators, installed indoor plumbing, and imported whatever materials were necessary in order to have the best possible outcome.

Many of the government buildings begun during the Porfiriato were not completed until the 1910s, 1920s, or even 1930s because of a lack in funding, war, political strife, and instability. One important project begun at the turn of the 20th century but not completed until 1912 was SCOP’s central office in Mexico City. The Palacio de Comunicaciones (today the Museo Nacional de Arte) was the first building to be constructed from the ground up as the headquarters of a government ministry and a representation of something completely new at the time: a public building with electricity and offices for government workers.10 Symbolically, the building also represented SCOP’s commitment to progress and economic and social development. To be sure, when Diaz’s time in office was coming to an end, the Ministry of Communications and Public Works was one of the main pillars of the nation’s government and society.

Communications during War and Revolution, 1910–1920

During the Mexican Revolution, communications played more of a prominent role than public works in the nation. Most important, the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (SCOP) focused on securing and strengthening the postal and telegraph offices. There were obvious reasons for this: rebel leaders and revolutionaries needed to communicate with one another across vast stretches of land that lacked major highways. All groups were forced to share and rely on the lines of communication and transportation most central to SCOP, the railroad and the telegraph. For their part, SCOP workers took an active role in the conflict, as telegraph operators and railroad engineers and became indispensable to the cause. Telegraph workers labored alongside the army or in military camps, providing generals with dispatches containing vital information and, at times, joining the rank and file officers.11 Revolutionary troops relied on telegraph operators to exchange information through radiotelefonía and radiotelegrafía; the former sending Morse Code signals through telegraph lines and the latter transmitting voices or words through what we recognize today as the telephone.

In the same way that the Mexican Revolution was the result of more than a desire to oust a ruling dictator but came about because of the ideas of Francisco I. Madero, campesino uprisings, labor strikes, and general unrest in the countryside, so, too, the revolutionary era was not just a time of chaos and destruction but also of creation and expansion, especially in the areas directly related to SCOP. Government bodies like the Ministry of War added their own communications and transportation departments, for instance. Mexico’s telegraph system, initiated during the Porfiriato, grew during the brief and contentious leadership of Victoriano Huerta in 1913 and 1914.12 As historian J. Justin Castro claims, telegraph stations were vital in the first decades of the 20th century, aiding government leaders and members of oppositional parties. Technology and emerging forms of communication were so effective, Castro notes, that even “spies were operating radios from the rooftops of crowded houses in Mexico City.”13

The Revolution was primarily a social conflict, and most of the major battles were waged because of internal factionalism and external pressures. And while unrest was still common in the countryside, when Venustiano Carranza assumed power as president May 1, 1917, most of the major strife was in the past. Carranza inherited an economy in near ruin but allocated funds to SCOP projects early on during his tenure. One of his government’s main objectives was ensuring that SCOP was “constructing, repairing, and maintaining” telegraph, telephone, and radiotelegraph equipment and lines.14

Improvements in the telegraph system were implemented quickly. The government built telegraph stations with “great reach” in strategic and important ports: Salina Cruz, Puerto Morelos, and Bahia Magdalena, for instance. Lacking the resources to build the lines of communication at the time, in 1917, Carranza declared that the government had acquired construction materials worth $261,087.73 from the United States for the expansion of Mexico’s telegraph system. The investment paid off. Later that year, twelve new telegraph stations were added, four that were high power, and four that were placed on board warships.15 By the end of Carranza’s first year in office, more money was spent buying equipment and parts from the United States, and telegraph stations in the nation’s most prominent cities—Chihuahua, Guadalajara, and Tampico—were created.16 When the central telegraph station, which was located inside of the Chapultepec Castle, was completed in 1919 it was reported to reach 15,000 kilometers and be “comparable to European and American” stations. And by 1920, two telegraph stations were up and running on opposite sides of the nation—in La Paz, Baja California, and in Tampico, Tamaulipas.17

During the decade that war and Revolution plagued Mexico, the government had opportunities to participate internationally in the communications arena. Proud of its progress in the field of mass communications, for instance, the government participated in and complied with intercontinental agreements following World War I, when countries in the Western Hemisphere adopted strict guidelines regarding the use and development of mass media. In the years of transition between the Mexican Revolution and stable government leadership, attention was placed on uniting Mexico and transmitting one common ideology through new technology and effective means of communication. Yet the reality was that aside from the telegraph, many of the avenues meant to carry out the connection between people and government propaganda—radio, bridges, roads, railroad lines—were in disarray, many completely destroyed and some not even in existence. Beginning in the 1920s, SCOP began to play an even larger role constructing a nation that was eager to embark on a new era of peace and reconstruction.

Building and Rebuilding the Nation, 1920–1940

After 1920, government leaders implemented broad economic policies intended to revive an economy that had been devastated by years of conflict. Globally, this was a time of innovation and rapid technological change affecting the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (SCOP) because mass communications methods were constantly evolving. For instance, the radio apparatuses that emerged after 1921 surpassed the technology of the day and brought together two preexisting instruments: the telegraph and the telephone. As a result, amateur radio stations sprung up throughout Mexico. In the northern industrial city of Monterrey, for example, one of the first radio transmissions on record took place on October 9, 1921, by an electrical engineer named Constantino de Tárnava Jr. who built and operated a private radio station in his home that he called “TND,”18 or Tárnava Notre Dame.19

Public interest played a role popularizing new technology and broadcast media throughout Mexico, especially in the urban centers. The government, moreover, also benefited from these changes and technological innovations, in particular those relating to improving the lines of communication between people. In the fall of 1921, the government publicly inaugurated its radio equipment, which consisted of two machines: a transmitter, used to send information, and a receiver, used to listen to aural messages. In that program, in which the government partnered with the newspaper Excelsior, technicians, journalists, and government bureaucrats took turns passing around a set of headphones to hear news bulletins and greetings received in the Legislative Palace in the centro histórico from a second radio “station” in the Chapultepec Castle, six and a half kilometers south.20

The unveiling of the government’s radio machinery, which had been constructed with the help of SCOP workers, was a transformational event for the urban population. Through its public inauguration, the administration proved that it was capable of applying modern methods of communication in everyday activities. Furthermore, the public ceremony was a significant moment in the trajectory of mass media development in Mexico and the relationship between the government and the people. Not only were the broadcasts visible signs that modernity had arrived to the nation’s capital, but in a scientific sense, they were proof that the government—with the help of SCOP—was capable of using technology to do something unthinkable at the time: carry messages from one location of the city to another without the use of a telegraph or a telephone wire.

This new wireless technology—what we recognize today as the radio—also coincided with the government’s desire to communicate with its own people via broadcast media. In an important decree in 1923, President Obregón declared that all communication through radio, whether official, private, or public, fell under SCOP’s surveillance.21 A handful of ministries managed and operated official radio stations in the 1920s and 1930s, including the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, and Labor; the Ministry of War and Navy; the Ministry of Foreign Relations; and the Ministry of Public Education, which was the most prominent.

Beginning in the 1920s, SCOP began to work with the Secretaría de Educacion Pública, the Ministry of Public Education, or SEP, in a series of projects. Since the early 1910s, SCOP had helped the SEP expand by building public schools through the nation. And in the following decade when their partnership continued, it focused on other things such as using technology to communicate with the people of Mexico. As scholars note, broadcast media was an integral part of the government’s efforts to revitalize the education sector.22 In 1925 the SEP was authorized to purchase a powerful radio station from the United States. The objective was to use modern technology to educate and instruct the population in the rural and urban areas. President Plutarco Elías Calles, who authorized and encouraged the use of radio to impart education and culture to the nation’s people, hoped the SEP’s station would transmit an “intense cultural propaganda.”23

During the 1920s laws and organizations affecting SCOP services and important work were implemented. For example, the first national legislation concerning radio communications was the signing of the Ley de Comunicaciones Eléctricas (Electric Communications Law) on April 26, 1926. The act gave SCOP the ability to designate the stations that would be used for cultural, commercial, experimental, or official use. Concerning the latter, the law indicated that the government could operate official stations to transmit whatever messages it desired.24 Another noteworthy act was the creation of the Comisión Nacional de Caminos, a department in charge of constructing new roads and, later, highways. Initiated in March 30, 1925, by President Calles, this association set the stage for the future direction and intense labor of SCOP. To be sure, each administration after Calles’s initiated, constructed, paved, and repaved roads and highways throughout Mexico.

Making contact with isolated regions in the nation and with the outside world via technology and modern forms of communication was not only essential for a country that was emerging from a revolution, but also helped Mexican foreign relations. SCOP representatives attended conferences and conventions early on, such as the International Telecommunications Conference held in Washington, D.C., in 1929, where it was determined that Mexico would be assigned the call letters XE and XF for its radio stations. Three years later, in 1932, SCOP sent delegates to the Conferencia Radiotelegráfica Internacional in Madrid, Spain, an important step in the attempt to participate in international events that were addressing global changes brought about by technology.25 Expressing not only an interest in broadcast communications but also a commitment to leadership in the region, Mexico hosted the Conferencia Regional Norte or Centroamericana de Radio in Mexico City during the brief administration of General Abelardo L. Rodríguez in 1933.26

SCOP’s achievements throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s were notable. The country had a stable national telegraph system and connected directly to Germany, and thus the rest of Europe. Thanks to a shortwave radio receiving station located in Chapultepec, wireless communication with France, Germany, England, Italy, and Japan, was also possible.27 In 1931, when the government officially inaugurated wireless broadcasting, Mexico was able to communicate, through the Chapultepec station, directly with New Orleans, Louisiana. An important news agreement was signed that year with Press Wireless Inc. of Chicago, Illinois, ensuring that Mexico would receive news from the United States.28 Aside from radio, the most revolutionary technology introduced in Mexico during the early 1930s was the telephone. Proud of its accomplishments in this field, SCOP inaugurated the first public telephone line—between Mexico City and the city of Mérida, in the Yucatán—in 1932.29

In 1934, when Lázaro Cárdenas del Rio began his presidency, the Ministry of Communications and Public Works was one of eight government bodies hard at work implementing the government’s reconstruction project. The seven other ministries at work during his sexenio, the Secretaría de Gobernación, Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Secretaría de Hacienda, Secretaría de Guerra y Marina, Secretaría de Economía Nacional, Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento, and the Secretaría de Educación Publica, collaborated with each other during one of Mexico’s most celebrated historical eras.

Cárdenas’s government plan was vast and far reaching and included revamping the economic system, implementing cultural and social programs, and improving Mexico’s relationship with other countries. Scholars of Mexico have noted that the project spearheaded by the state during and after Cárdenas was not a program passed down from the government to the people, but one in which a significant amount of negotiation took place between these two forces. Indeed, historians have identified multiple sites of struggle on the local, regional, and national level.30 The future of the nation, spurred by capitalist development, was in the hands of private agricultural enterprises, the availability of wage laborers, regulation of the external investments, social and political mobility, and economic growth, all areas in which SCOP played a major role.

Cárdenas was concerned with one major issue directly relating to SCOP: ensuring that Mexico was better connected. During the second half of the 1930s when he was in office, SCOP’s focus shifted toward improving existing lines of communication. Expanding the national telegraph line, modernizing existing telegraph stations, and improving the telephone system were some of the practical ways this was carried out. Roads and highways continued to be important sites for improvement to SCOP, and the federal government found ways to use technology to reach the people of Mexico on a regular basis. The inauguration of La Hora Nacional, a one-hour weekly radio program featuring music, drama, history, and government reports, in 1937 was the most enduring and visible sign of the collaboration between the government and new technology. It is still transmitted today, as by law every commercial station is mandated to form a special network every Sunday evening and broadcast or rebroadcast the program. By the end of the 1930s, a series of long-distance and large-scale highway projects were inaugurated, most notably the northern section of the Pan-American Highway in Mexico, a highway extending from Mexico City to Laredo, Texas. Despite new attention given to highways and road construction, the railroad did not cease to play a major role. In fact, in 1937 Cárdenas noted that the railroad was the “most important sector of communications and transportation.”31 At the dawn of World War II and the end of the Cárdenas years, the government and SCOP continued to work, building lines of communication and government buildings throughout Mexico as well as preserving national sovereignty.

Communication and Public Works during War, 1940–1946

In 1940, after a disputed election, Manuel. Ávila Camacho assumed the presidency and ushered in a new era in Mexican history. Camacho’s sexenio (1940–1946) was unique in that he emerged and remained in power during World War II, a time in Mexican history of economic prosperity and population growth. When the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (SCOP) was in the hands of Manuel’s brother, Maximino Ávila Camacho, the names and responsibilities of the direcciones changed minimally to Dirección de Correos, Dirección de Telecomunicaciones, Dirección de Caminos, and Dirección de Construcción de Ferrocarriles.32 The objective during Camacho’s administration, as with Cárdenas, was to make communication in Mexico easier, specifically, to connect “two million square kilometers and considerable topographic difficulties.”33 This plan included providing telephone services to people throughout Mexico, a figure that increased annually and was always proclaimed with pride. In 1944, for instance, Camacho boasted that thirty-three villages were afforded telephone lines during the previous year.34 Under Ávila Camacho’s administration, a completely new office, the Dirección de Obras Públicas Nacionales, was also created, giving SCOP a new task: constructing government buildings that incorporated national symbols and reflected the revolutionary path the nation’s leaders wished to take.

SCOP’s focus during the Camacho sexenio shifted in that it became less about extending and reinforcing the telegraph system and more about constructing roads, highways, and railroads; focusing on airplanes; strengthening the civil airforce; building sewage pipes, tunnels, and public schools; and protecting rivers from floods. Road projects, in particular, epitomized national unity and continental solidarity during World War II. Between 1925 and 1941 the government allotted 491,665,116.69 pesos to the construction of highways, and planned on investing 81,478,983.74 pesos in 1941.35 That same year, SCOP Secretario Jesús de la Garza declared that the Ministry was planning on increasing the construction of the lines of communication, an act that constituted “material progress and national strength.”36 The quintessential example of the way that patriotism and public works crossed paths was through the construction of the Pan American Highway in the 1930s and 1940s. During the war, Mexico’s part in the continental highway project blended together the nation’s commitment to progress as well as its allegiance to the other nations in the region, most important, the United States.

In the 1940s, SCOP also began to extend the lines of communication from the center of the nation to the lesser-populated and isolated regions of Mexico. Many of these remote areas were rich in natural resources, so the objective became linking them to Mexico City through reliable and secure road and railway lines. Even though the war made some resources unavailable, the construction of the railroad continued as well as it could during the Camacho sexenio. One of SCOP’s most important achievements in the 1940s, in fact, was connecting the Yucatán peninsula and the Baja California territories to the rest of Mexico via railroad.37

In 1942, after Mexico declared war on the Axis Powers and joined the Allied forces, SCOP suspended all communication—via telegraph and radio—with enemy nations and with nations being invaded by the Axis countries: Japan, Germany, and Italy.38 As a security measure, SCOP ordered the national registry of every apparatus capable of wireless communication, suspended amateur and experimental radio stations, and established observation offices tasked to locate and shut down clandestine radio operations.39

Another area where SCOP invested heavily during World War II was Mexico’s aeronautical commercial routes. Hundreds of pilots were trained in Mexico’s twenty-three flight schools by the end of the war. In 1945, for example, SCOP announced that it awarded 1,600 pilot licenses.40 By the following year, when Camacho’s term as president was coming to an end, SCOP capitalized on Mexico’s active participation providing Allied powers natural resources and support and focused on strengthening existing commercial lines of communication.

SCOP during Economic Prosperity and Population Growth, 1946–1958

Mexico’s transition between the post–World War II era and the presidency of Miguel Aleman (1946–1952) was prompt. By the late 1940s, Mexico City was rapidly growing, public services were expanding, and the nation was benefiting from a higher standard of living thanks to an increase in exports during World War II.

Road construction was at the forefront during Aleman’s tenure as president. In 1947, the government invested 116,500,000.00 pesos in the construction of new roads and highways. During Aleman’s sexenio, the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (SCOP) worked with state governments to build roads in the provinces and also passed important ammendments relating to road construction in the Ley de Vías Generales de Comunicación. The focus on highways and roads was not just on construction, but also on upkeep. In particular, the focus became paving major thoroughfares in the nation and in the major cities.41 By the late 1940s, when Mexico City was growing rapidly, SCOP’s focus became improving the capital’s sewage system, telephone, and electric lines and paving many of the major streets. It was not until 1949, for example, that one of the main arteries of the city, Paseo de la Reforma, was completely paved.42

During Aleman’s sexenio SCOP continued to construct and improve railroad lines through the country. His administration, moreover, took credit for completing many of the highway projects launched by previous presidents. The Pan-American Highway, for example, was completely finished. This became more than a symbolic gesture of continental cooperation; in practical ways it was also a road project extending from Mexico’s northern border to Guatemala, a distance of over 3,440 kilometers.43

Attention to ports and oceanic trade by SCOP officials increased during the late 1940s and early 1950s as well. Puerto Mexico and Salina Cruz, strategically located because of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, slowly increased their activity and expanded their commercial ties with other nations.44 An important new SCOP sub-branch was created under Aleman, the Secretaría de Recursos Hidráulicos. This office was in charge of building dams and canals, as well as improving the sewage system in Mexico’s urban centers.45

During the mid-1950s, when the economy was rising and the nation industrializing, many of SCOP’s previous projects—airports, telephone services, schools—continued, but the Ministry’s attention shifted inward, and plans were made to build new headquarters. Building the Centro SCT, as it would later be known, echoed the government’s focus during the Adolfo Ruiz Cortines sexenio (1952–1958), which was administrative efficacy, industrial production, economic growth, and wide-ranging technological improvements during a time of increasing urban growth.

The construction of a new home for the Ministry was important for a number of reasons. There was a desire to centralize power and have all of the offices in one location, but also a sense that the downtown building was outdated and reminded the public of the Porfiriato. By the mid-20th century, the Palacio de Comunicaciones did not symbolize the objectives of the SCOP: progress, forward thinking, and economic and social development. The move from the centro histórico to the Colonia Narvarte, where the complex is today, signified the end of an era. SCOP, as a ministry, ceased to exist by 1958 when government ministries were reorganized. The same government body in charge of building SCOP’s first home downtown was also responsible for building the future of SCOP, a new ministry known as the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes.

Conclusion

Government institutions can be perceived as lifeless and hierarchical, when in fact they are made up of people who share a common goal. Between the 1860s and the 1950s, the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (SCOP) played an active and important role in Mexican society, politics, and culture, always adjusting its focus to serve the needs of the nation. The services SCOP provided and constructed for the people of Mexico—telephones, radio, televisions, roads, tunnels, airports, etc.—were generally embraced with pleasure, many becoming powerful tools that altered Mexicans’ cultural practices, leisure activities, and the spatial order of their world, either in the countryside or the city. While the Ministry’s priorities changed with the times and during important moments, it consistently fought to transmit, convey, and build the government’s mission and vision for Mexico. After all, SCOP believed its work was central and critical for the future of Mexico. Without better roads and highways, bridges, dams, and tunnels, the social and economic betterment of Mexico could not be realized.

Primary Sources

The bulk of the informatino on the Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas is located at the Archivo General de la Nación, Fondo Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (AGN, SCOP).

The Ministry’s Memorias, or annual records, were published irregularly but are located at the AGN and in other libraries throughout Mexico. They are known as Memoria de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas, México, DF.

Further Reading

Agostoni, Claudia. Monuments of Progress: Modernization and Public Health in Mexico City, 1876–1910. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2003.Find this resource:

Beatty, Edward. Technology and the Search for Progress in Modern Mexico. Oakland: University of California Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Castro, J. Justin. Radio in Revolution: Wireless Technology and State Power in Mexico, 1897–1938. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016.Find this resource:

González de Bustamante, Celeste. Muy buenas noches: Mexico, Television, and the Cold War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Hayes, Joy Elizabeth. Radio Nation: Communication, Popular Culture, and Nationalism in Mexico, 1920–1950. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Katz, Friedrich. La guerra secreta en México. México, DF: Ediciones Era, 1981.Find this resource:

Matthews, Michael. The Civilizing Machine: A Cultural History of Mexican Railroads, 1876–1910. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Mejía Barquera, Fernando. La industria de la radio y la televisión y la política del estado Mexicano. México, DF: Fundación Manuel Buendía, 1989.Find this resource:

Mejía Prieto, Jorge. Historia de la radio y la televisión en México. México, DF: Colección México Vivo, 1972.Find this resource:

Miquel, Ángel. Disolvencias: Literatura, cine y radio en México (1900–1950). México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005.Find this resource:

Romo, Cristina. Ondas, canales y mensajes: Un perfil de la radio en México. Guadalajara, Jalisco, México: ITESO, 1991.Find this resource:

Tinajero, Aracelia, and J. Brian Freeman, eds. Technology and Culture in Twentieth Century Mexico. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Vaughan, Mary Kay. Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930–1940. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) Memoria de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (México, DF, 1898–1938, septiembre 1938–agosto 1939).

(2.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “El Gral: Manuel Ávila Camacho, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1942,” 224.

(3.) Elizabeth Joy Hayes, Radio Nation: Communication, Popular Culture, and Nationalism in Mexico, 1920–1950 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000), xi.

(4.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “El. Ing. Pascual Ortiz Rubio, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias el Congreso, el 1º de septiembre de 1931,” 1,072.

(5.) Patrimonio artístico de la secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (México, DF: Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes, 2001); Victor Jiménez, “Introducción,” 9–10.

(6.) Patrimonio artístico de la secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes.

(7.) Patrimonio artístico de la secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes México, DF: Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes Victor Jiménez, “Capítulo I: Arquitectura,” 27.

(8.) Patrimonio artístico de la secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes México, DF: Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes Victor Jiménez, “Introducción,” 14.

(9.) Patrimonio artístico de la secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes México, DF: Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes Victor Jiménez, “Capítulo I: Arquitectura,” 37.

(10.) After independence, a number of government institutions moved into colonial-era homes. The Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, or Ministry of Foreign Relations, for instance, set up its department in a home near the centro histórico.

(11.) See Friedrich Katz, La guerra secreta en México (México, DF: Ediciones Era, 1981) and Roberto Ornelas Herrera, “Radio y Cotidianidad en México (1900–1930)” in Aurelio de los Reyes, ed., Historia de la vida cotidiana en México Tomo V, Volumen 1, Siglo XX, Campo y Ciudad (México, DF: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005).

(12.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “El Gral. Victoriano Huerta, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias del Congreso, el 16 de septiembre de 1913,” 89.

(13.) J. Justin Castro, Radio in Revolution: Wireless Technology and State Power in Mexico, 1897–1938 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2016), 1.

(14.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “Don Venustiano Carranza, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias del Congreso, el 1ero de septiembre de 1919,” 356–357.

(15.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “Venustiano Carranza, al abrir las sesiones extraordinarias del Congreso, el 15 de abril de 1917,” 157.

(16.) Presidentes ante la Nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “Venustiano Carranza, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1ero de septiembre de 1917,” 213.

(17.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “Don Venustiano Carranza, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias del Congreso, el 1ero de septiembre de 1919,” 356–357.

(18.) Jorge Mejía Prieto, Historia de la radio y la televisión en México (México, DF: Colección México Vivo, 1972), 14–15.

(19.) Some sources claim that de Tárnava attended Notre Dame University during the 1910s and acquired the skills and equipment from the United States before arriving in Mexico to construct his station.

(20.) Excelsior, “Dos estaciones de telefonía inalámbrica: Ayer fueron inauguradas en la Exposición Internacional establecida en el Gran Palacio Legislativo,” 28 de septiembre 1921, 1, 3.

(21.) Archivo General de la Nación, Ramo Presidentes, Fondo Obregón-Calles, Minuta, 18 de enero de 1923, Acuerdo Presidencial: Código Telegráfico y Telégrafos Nacionales Reglamento General, Capitulo II, Articulo 26.

(22.) Alan Knight, “Popular Culture and the Revolutionary State in Mexico, 1910–1940,” Hispanic American Historical Review 74.3 (August 1994): 395–396.

(23.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “El Gral, Plutarco Elías Calles, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias del Congreso, el 1ero de septiembre de 1925.”

(24.) Diario oficial, 26 de abril de 1926, “Ley de Comunicaciones Eléctricas.”

(25.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “El Ingeniero Pascual Ortiz Rubio, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias, el 1ero de septiembre de 1932,” 1,148.

(26.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “El General Abelardo L. Rodríguez: Presidente substituto, al abrir el Congreso, sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1ero de septiembre de 1933.”

(27.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “El Lic. Emilio Portes Gil, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias del Congreso, el 1ero de septiembre 1929,” 918.

(28.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “El Ingeniero Pascual Ortiz Rubio, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias del Congreso, el 1ero de septiembre de 1931,” 1,070–1,072.

(29.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo III: Informes y Respuestas desde el 1º de abril de 1912 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1934, “El Ingeniero Pascual Ortiz Rubio, al abrir las sesiones ordinarias, el 1ero de septiembre de 1932,” 1,148.

(30.) See Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent, Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997); William H. Beezley, Cheryl English Martin, and William E. French, eds. Rituals of Rule, Rituals of Resistance: Public Celebrations and Popular Culture in Mexico (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1994); Jeffrey W. Rubin, Decentering the Regime: Ethnicity, Radicalism, and Democracy in Juchitán, Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997); Alan Knight, “Cardenismo: Juggernaut or Jalopy?” Journal of Latin American Studies 26. 1 (February 1994): 73–107; and Mary Kay Vaughan, Cultural Politics in Revolution: Teachers, Peasants, and Schools in Mexico, 1930–1940 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997).

(31.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “El Gral. Lázaro Cárdenas, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1937,” 67.

(32.) Memoria de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (México, DF, septiembre 1942–agosto 1943).

(33.) Memoria de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (México, DF, septiembre 1940–agosto 1941).

(34.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “El Gral. Manuel Ávila Camacho, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1944,” 288.

(35.) Memoria de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (México, DF, septiembre 1940–agosto 1941), 11.

(36.) Memoria de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (México, DF, septiembre 1940–agosto 1941), Preambulo.

(37.) Memoria de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (México, DF, septiembre 1940–agosto 1941).

(38.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966). Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “El Gral. Manuel Avila Camacho, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1942,” 224.

(39.) Memoria de la Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Obras Públicas (México, DF, septiembre 1942–agosto 1943), 65.

(40.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966. “El. Gral. Manuel Avila Camacho, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1946,” 342.

(41.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966). Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “El Lic. Miguel Aleman, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1947,” 410.

(42.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “Lic. Miguel Aleman, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1949.”

(43.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966). Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “Lic. Miguel Aleman, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1950,” 440.

(44.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966), Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “Lic. Miguel Aleman, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1949,” 418.

(45.) Presidentes ante la nación: Informes, manifiestos y documentos de 1821–1966, Editado por la XLVI Legislatura de la Cámara de Diputados (México, DF, 1966). Tomo IV: Informes y Respuestas desde el 30 de noviembre de 1934 hasta el 1º de septiembre de 1966, “Lic. Miguel Aleman, al abrir el Congreso sus sesiones ordinarias, el 1º de septiembre de 1947,” 375.