Minor C. Keith
Overview
 
Minor Cooper Keith was a U.S. railroad
Rail transport
Rail transport is a means of conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail tracks. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles merely run on a prepared surface, rail vehicles are also directionally guided by the tracks they run on...

, fruit, and shipping magnate whose business activities had a profound impact in Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

 and in Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

.
Keith was born in Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, to Minor Hubbell Keith, a lumber
Lumber
Lumber or timber is wood in any of its stages from felling through readiness for use as structural material for construction, or wood pulp for paper production....

 merchant, and Emily Meiggs, who was the sister of railroad builder Henry Meiggs
Henry Meiggs
Henry Meiggs , was a promoter/entrepreneur and railroad builder. He was born in Catskill, New York. He came to New York City in 1835 and began a lumber business, but was ruined by the Panic of 1837. He restarted his business, this time in Brooklyn, but again met with failure...

. After being educated in private schools, at the age of sixteen he went to work as a store clerk in Broadway
Broadway (New York City)
Broadway is a prominent avenue in New York City, United States, which runs through the full length of the borough of Manhattan and continues northward through the Bronx borough before terminating in Westchester County, New York. It is the oldest north–south main thoroughfare in the city, dating to...

, a position which he left after several months to become a lumber surveyor.
Encyclopedia
Minor Cooper Keith was a U.S. railroad
Rail transport
Rail transport is a means of conveyance of passengers and goods by way of wheeled vehicles running on rail tracks. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles merely run on a prepared surface, rail vehicles are also directionally guided by the tracks they run on...

, fruit, and shipping magnate whose business activities had a profound impact in Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

 and in Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

.

Early life

Keith was born in Brooklyn
Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, to Minor Hubbell Keith, a lumber
Lumber
Lumber or timber is wood in any of its stages from felling through readiness for use as structural material for construction, or wood pulp for paper production....

 merchant, and Emily Meiggs, who was the sister of railroad builder Henry Meiggs
Henry Meiggs
Henry Meiggs , was a promoter/entrepreneur and railroad builder. He was born in Catskill, New York. He came to New York City in 1835 and began a lumber business, but was ruined by the Panic of 1837. He restarted his business, this time in Brooklyn, but again met with failure...

. After being educated in private schools, at the age of sixteen he went to work as a store clerk in Broadway
Broadway (New York City)
Broadway is a prominent avenue in New York City, United States, which runs through the full length of the borough of Manhattan and continues northward through the Bronx borough before terminating in Westchester County, New York. It is the oldest north–south main thoroughfare in the city, dating to...

, a position which he left after several months to become a lumber surveyor. Having amassed $3,000 in a year, he bought a cattle ranch on an island near the mouth of the Rio Grande
Rio Grande
The Rio Grande is a river that flows from southwestern Colorado in the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way it forms part of the Mexico – United States border. Its length varies as its course changes...

, in southern Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

. He administered the ranch until 1871, when he accepted an invitation from his uncle Henry Meiggs to help build a railroad in the Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

n nation of Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Costa Rica , officially the Republic of Costa Rica is a multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east....

.

Costa Rican railroad

In 1871, Keith's uncle Henry Meiggs had signed a contract with the government of Costa Rican president Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez
Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez
General Tomás Miguel Guardia Gutiérrez was President of Costa Rica on two occasions:from 1870 to 1876, and from 1877 to 1882....

 for the construction of a railroad from the capital city of San José
San José, Costa Rica
San José is the capital and largest city of Costa Rica. Located in the Central Valley, San José is the seat of national government, the focal point of political and economic activity, and the major transportation hub of this Central American nation.Founded in 1738 by order of Cabildo de León, San...

 to what became the Caribbean
Caribbean Sea
The Caribbean Sea is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean located in the tropics of the Western hemisphere. It is bounded by Mexico and Central America to the west and southwest, to the north by the Greater Antilles, and to the east by the Lesser Antilles....

 port of Limón
Limón
Puerto Limón, commonly known as Limón , is the capital city and main hub of Limón province, as well as of the cantón of Limón in Costa Rica. It has a population of about 60,000 , and is home to a thriving Afro-Caribbean community...

. Minor Keith was involved in the project from the start and took it over after Meiggs's death in 1877.

At the time, Costa Rica's economy was based primarily on the export of coffee
Coffee
Coffee is a brewed beverage with a dark,init brooo acidic flavor prepared from the roasted seeds of the coffee plant, colloquially called coffee beans. The beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries, primarily in equatorial Latin America, Southeast Asia,...

, which was grown in the country's central valley and transported by oxcart to the Pacific
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 port of Puntarenas
Puntarenas
Puntarenas is the capital and largest city in the province Puntarenas, Costa Rica, at the Pacific coast. The eponymous and oddly shaped province has its largest section in the South, far from the capital.Some 100,000 live in the city and close towns...

. Since the main market for Costa Rican coffee was in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and no canal connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

s existed, creating a reliable transportation route to the Caribbean was a high priority for the Costa Rican government.

The construction of the railroad, however, proved extraordinarily challenging due to inadequate financing coupled to the rugged terrain, thick jungle, torrential rains, and prevalence of malaria
Malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

, yellow fever
Yellow fever
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease. The virus is a 40 to 50 nm enveloped RNA virus with positive sense of the Flaviviridae family....

, dysentery
Dysentery
Dysentery is an inflammatory disorder of the intestine, especially of the colon, that results in severe diarrhea containing mucus and/or blood in the faeces with fever and abdominal pain. If left untreated, dysentery can be fatal.There are differences between dysentery and normal bloody diarrhoea...

, and other tropical diseases. As many as four thousand people, including Keith's three brothers, died during the construction of the first 25 miles of track. Having subsequent trouble recruiting Costa Rican laborers, Keith eventually brought in blacks from the Caribbean islands (mainly Jamaica), Chinese, and even Italians, to complete the project.

By 1882, the Costa Rican government had defaulted on its payments to Keith and could no longer meet its obligations to the London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 banks from which it had borrowed to pay for the railroad. Keith managed to raise £
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

1.2 million himself from the banks and from private investors, and negotiated a reduction of the interest on the money previously lent to Costa Rica, from 7% to 2.5%. In exchange, the government of President Próspero Fernández Oreamuno
Próspero Fernández Oreamuno
Term of office: 20 July 1882 to12 March 1885– Preceded by: Saturnino Lizano Gutiérrez – Succeeded by: Bernardo SotoDate of birth: 18 July 1834Place of birth: San JoséDate of death: 12 March 1885Place of death: AtenasParty:...

 gave Keith 800,000 acres (3,200 km²) of tax-free land along the railroad, plus a 99-year lease on the operation of the train route. These terms were made official in a document signed by Keith and cabinet minister Bernardo Soto Alfaro
Bernardo Soto Alfaro
Ramón Bernardo Soto Alfaro was President of Costa Rica from 1885 to 1889.He took office when his father-in-law, President Próspero Fernández, died in office in 1885, and in a gesture of national conciliation following the fiercely disputed election for his successor, decided to hold himself apart...

 on April 21, 1884 (known to Costa Rican historians as the "Soto-Keith contract").

The two most powerful cabinet ministers in the government of President Fernández were his son-in-law Soto (who succeeded him after his death) and his brother-in-law José María Castro Madriz
José María Castro Madriz
First term:8 May 1847 to16 November 1849– Preceded by: José María Alfaro Zamora– Succeeded by: Juan Rafael MoraSecond term:8 May 1866 to1 November 1868– Preceded by: Jesús Jiménez– Succeeded by: ...

, who had previously served twice as President of Costa Rica. In 1883, Minor Keith married Cristina Castro Fernández, who was the daughter of Castro, niece of President Fernández, and cousin-in-law of Soto.

Banana trade

The railroad was completed in 1890, but the flow of passengers and cargo proved insufficient to finance Keith's debt. As early as 1873, however, Keith had begun experimenting with the production of bananas grown from roots he had obtained from the French. To market the bananas, Keith began running a steamboat
Steamboat
A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels...

 line from Limón to New Orleans
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The New Orleans metropolitan area has a population of 1,235,650 as of 2009, the 46th largest in the USA. The New Orleans – Metairie – Bogalusa combined statistical area has a population...

, in the United States. The resulting banana trade proved extremely lucrative that he soon established the Tropical Trading and Transport Company.

Keith then established banana plantations in Panama
Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

 and in the Colombia
Colombia
Colombia, officially the Republic of Colombia , is a unitary constitutional republic comprising thirty-two departments. The country is located in northwestern South America, bordered to the east by Venezuela and Brazil; to the south by Ecuador and Peru; to the north by the Caribbean Sea; to the...

n Magdalena Department
Magdalena Department
Magdalena is a department of Colombia, located to the north of the country by the Caribbean Sea. The capital of the Magdalena Department is Santa Marta and was named after the Magdalena River...

. He eventually came to dominate the banana trade in Central America and Colombia. In 1899, he was forced by a financial setback to combine his venture with Andrew W. Preston's Boston Fruit Company
Boston Fruit Company
The Boston Fruit Company was a fruit production and import business based in the port of Boston, Massachusetts. Andrew W. Preston and nine others established the firm to ship bananas and other fruit from the West Indes to north-eastern America. At the time, the banana was "considered a rare and...

, which dominated the banana trade in the West Indies. The result of the merger was the powerful United Fruit Company
United Fruit Company
It had a deep and long-lasting impact on the economic and political development of several Latin American countries. Critics often accused it of exploitative neocolonialism and described it as the archetypal example of the influence of a multinational corporation on the internal politics of the...

, of which Keith became vice-president. In 1904, Keith signed a contract with the President of Guatemala
President of Guatemala
The title of President of Guatemala has been the usual title of the leader of Guatemala since 1839, when that title was assumed by Mariano Rivera Paz...

, Manuel Estrada Cabrera
Manuel Estrada Cabrera
Manuel José Estrada Cabrera was President of Guatemala from 8 February 1898 to 15 April 1920.Manuel Estrada forcibly took the presidency after the assassination of José María Reina. The Guatemalan cabinet called an emergency meeting to appoint a new successor, but declined to invite the General...

, that gave the company tax-exemptions, land grants, and control of all railroads on the Atlantic side of the country.

Other activities

Keith also invested in gold mining
Gold mining
Gold mining is the removal of gold from the ground. There are several techniques and processes by which gold may be extracted from the earth.-History:...

 in Abangares, in the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste
Guanacaste Province
Guanacaste is a province of Costa Rica located in the northwestern part of the country, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. To the north it borders Nicaragua. To the east is the Alajuela Province, and to the southeast is the Puntarenas Province. It is the most sparsely populated of all the...

. In 1912 he returned to railroad building, organizing the International Railways of Central America and eventually completing an 800-mi (1,287-km) railway system, but died before realizing his dream of a line from Guatemala
Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

 to the Panama Canal
Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Built from 1904 to 1914, the canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships early on to 14,702 vessels measuring a total of 309.6...

. His work profoundly altered the economic life of Central American countries.

Keith also founded a chain of general stores and owned one of the largest poultry
Poultry
Poultry are domesticated birds kept by humans for the purpose of producing eggs, meat, and/or feathers. These most typically are members of the superorder Galloanserae , especially the order Galliformes and the family Anatidae , commonly known as "waterfowl"...

 farms in the United States. He was a trustee of the foundation that managed George Gustav Heye
George Gustav Heye
George Gustav Heye was a collector of Native American artifacts. His collection became the core of the National Museum of the American Indian.-Biography:...

's collection of Native American
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 artifacts and he bequeathed his own ancient Indian gold to the American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History
The American Museum of Natural History , located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, United States, is one of the largest and most celebrated museums in the world...

 in New York City. He died of pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

 at his home in West Islip
West Islip, New York
West Islip is a hamlet and CDP, located in Suffolk County, New York, USA. Situated on the south shore of Long Island, the population of the CDP was 29,907 at the time of the 2000 census.-Geography:West Islip is located at ....

, aged eighty-one.

External References

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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