Our South American Neighbors - G. Southworth

Capital of the Small Republic of Uruguay

[Map] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth

Montevideo, the third largest city in South America, is the capital of Uruguay, the smallest South American republic.

In area, Uruguay is only a little larger than our single state, North Dakota, and the population of the entire republic is not as great as that of our one city, Philadelphia. About one-third of the republic's small population lives in Montevideo, the city's inhabitants numbering nearly 400,000.

Montevideo reminds one of Italy, the air, sky, streets, buildings and even, as some one has said, the smells, being much the same as that sunny land in southern Europe. The climate, too, is about the same as is found in northern Italy. And since there is plenty to eat and work for everybody, Montevideo attracts a very good class of emigrants from among the overcrowded and poorly paid people of that land.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


But in spite of the large number of Italians, the majority of Uruguay's population are native-born South Americans. Moreover, both the republic and its capital were settled, not by Italians, but by Spaniards.

In the very beginning, the natives of Uruguay were freedom-loving and independent Indians. Then, less than a hundred years after Columbus made his first discoveries for Spain, the Spanish landed on the eastern coast of South America, on the coast of what is now Uruguay. But the Spaniards did not, at once, become complete masters of the land. For many years they and the Indians struggled for the upper hand and sometimes one was victorious and sometimes the other.

As time went on and South America became more developed, this small fought-over territory was also claimed by Brazil on the north and Argentina on the south. The half-breed Portuguese from Brazil and the half-breed Spaniards from Argentina both crowded into the open, unorganized country and gradually the people of Uruguay became of Portuguese-Spanish-Indian descent.

Finally, after being ruled by Spain, by Portugal, by Great Britain, and again by Spain, Uruguay threw off her foreign yoke and became independent. This happened in 1811. But Uruguay still was not destined for peace, for in 1820 the country was again claimed by Brazil, and likewise, two or three years later, by Argentina. However, in 1825 Uruguay again asserted her independence though it was not until 1830 that she set up her republic and elected her first President.

It seems absurd, does it not, that the huge republics of Brazil and Argentina should regard little Uruguay as a great commercial rival? However, they do and there are three very good reasons why. First of all is the location of Uruguay. As an outlet for the products of the south central part of the continent, Montevideo is better situated than Buenos Aires. The Uruguayan city stands on the Atlantic while Buenos Aires is some two hundred miles from the ocean on the Plata river.

The second reason is that the gently rolling land of the small country with its splendid water supply is the most fertile of any in South America. Uruguay, in fact, seems fitted to raise anything: wheat, corn, oats, flax, fruits and vegetables. Many localities are even able to produce two crops in one year. The little republic is a veritable garden plot between the vast ranches of Argentina and the even greater plantations of Brazil.

Third, and this reason is very closely related to the second, the climate of Uruguay is very pleasant, mild and healthful. This makes the republic a delightful place in which to live and work. The seasons of summer and winter correspond in general temperature to our seasons of spring and autumn. But we must remember that the seasons are just the opposite from ours, that is, when we are having our summers the people of Uruguay are having their mild winters. The general vegetation and climate has been compared to that of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee in the United States.

Montevideo is built partly on a small peninsula which juts out into the Atlantic, and partly upon the mainland which slopes gently down from what is called the mountain to the bay. In reality, the "mountain" is so called merely out of courtesy, for it is nothing more than a hill. But it was from this hill that Montevideo received its name, a name which means, "I see the mountain."

Because of its sloping site, Montevideo has excellent natural drainage. The streets are immaculate, for, as all run down hill, every rain washes them clean. Besides, the city has an excellent sewage system and a fine water supply. Thus Montevideo is a very healthful city, so healthful indeed that it has a lower death rate than any other city in the world.

The city's buildings are for the most part of an elaborate and imposing style. The President's palace, in the heart of the capital, is among the most beautiful buildings in the world. Also the Solis theater, with its imposing columns and domes, is one of the largest and finest in South America, having seating capacity for three thousand people. Then there is a magnificent cathedral built with two very lofty towers.

Montevideo has a handsome university building. This university was established by the government and has more than 1,200 students and a faculty of about eighty professors. There are several fine public libraries in the city also. Education is well advanced in Uruguay and compares most favorably with other South American countries.

Many wealthy people live in the capital city, people who have vast estates throughout the rich country-side of Uruguay. Their town houses are often more like grand palaces than homes. The floors are laid with marble and the ceilings upheld by beautiful marble columns imported from Italy.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


The principal and handsomest street in Montevideo is the Avenida 18 de Julio, named for the day upon which the republic was inaugurated. The town's people claim that this avenue, lined with its fine residences and beautiful shade trees, is the finest in the southern hemisphere.

Many of the buildings, both public and private, in Montevideo are even finer and larger than those in Buenos Aires.

The Uruguayan capital has very good street cars, is exceptionally well lighted and has all the modern conveniences of a European or United States city. The streets are fairly wide and straight and many of them are well paved. Some of the wagons still used for hauling purposes in Montevideo are peculiar. They are huge, two-wheeled carts, drawn by two or three mules harnessed abreast. They make a great din as they rattle along a street paved with cobblestones. You wonder why the people do not use more convenient four-wheeled wagons. It is because vehicles in Montevideo are taxed according to the number of wheels. So a four-wheeled wagon would have to pay twice as much as a cart.

The city's semi-circular bay, formed by the wide mouth of the Plata river, is six miles long and is shaped like a great horseshoe. It is so large that many hundred vessels can be anchored in it at the same time.

The commerce of Uruguay, which surges through its excellent port, Montevideo, is very large and prosperous. The exports of both republic and capital exceed in value the total imports.

On account of its well-watered soil and grassy plains, the raising of cattle and sheep is the chief industry in Uruguay. And beef stands high on the list of the country's exports, canned beef, frozen beef and jerked beef.

By canned beef we mean beef-extract, which is made by the German firm of Liebig. The Liebig Company has many thousand acres of pasture in Uruguay and exports from 60,000 to 80,000 tons a year. The largest of their meat-extract establishments is located at Fray Bentos, a city some miles up the Uruguay River, on the boundary line between Uruguay and Argentina.

Fray Bentos has been called the greatest kitchen in the world. On some days the meat from as many as 2,500 head of cattle is cooked. The work is carried on, moreover, with the best possible care and attention to detail. The lean meat is placed in large tanks or kettles and stewed in warm water. Whatever fat rises to the top is skimmed off. After a long time the stew thickens into a liquid, like thin molasses. The liquid passes through one process after another until when cooled it becomes a jelly-like substance.

The second kind of beef which is exported from Uruguay is frozen beef. There are several freezing factories in Montevideo and Fray Bentos. The freezing process keeps the meat in good condition for several weeks. The long journey across the Atlantic is thus made possible.

Not far from Fray Bentos are factories famous for the jerked or dried beef which is made in them. After the cattle are killed, the meat is stripped from their bones in sheets and dried in the sun in such a way that it will not spoil however long it is kept. Such meat is greatly liked by the South American people. Although much of it is consumed at home, large quantities are also exported. This kind of beef is shipped mostly to Brazil and the West India Islands.

[Illustration] from Our South American Neighbors by G. Southworth


Meat is not the only product which the cattle in Uruguay furnish for export. Not a bit of the animal is allowed to go to waste. The hides 'are tanned and sent to European countries and the United States to be made into leather. Horns and hoofs are valuable in making glue. The very bones are used, being ground and made into fertilizer for the soil.

Besides some 8,000,000 cattle in Uruguay, there are nearly 25,000,000 sheep. The most valuable product which they furnish for export is not mutton, but bales upon bales of fleecy wool.

The five most important imports received into Uruguay through Montevideo are textile goods, iron and steel manufactures, coal, sugar and beverages.

So it seems that handsome, imposing Montevideo is quite as useful as she is beautiful. The capital city practically controls the entrance to the Plata river, and, as an outlet to central South America her situation is unequaled.

In addition to the connection with the outside world which this fine city enjoys, there are also plenty of interior water and rail connections. Chief among these, perhaps, is the all-rail route between Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro, which has been opened only since 1910. The journey of 1,966 miles takes the traveler through broad acres of waving grass, great fields of ripening grain, large herds of sleek cattle and even larger flocks of fat, fleecy sheep.

In leaving Uruguay the points to remember are that it has neither mountains, nor deserts, nor tropical jungles, nor aboriginal Indians, but that it has a prosperous people, a good government, a fertile soil, and an uniformly healthful climate, and that it is the smallest of the South American republics.

Uruguay, like the diamond, has much of value and beauty packed into a very small space.

Questions for Review and Study

  1. How does Uruguay rank in size among the South American republics?
  2. Tell the story of its early history.
  3. Why do Brazil and Argentina look upon Uruguay as a commercial rival?
  4. Name Uruguay's capital and give the meaning of the name.
  5. Describe the capital city.
  6. What are its chief exports?
  7. Describe the three main processes of preparing beef for market.