This essay explores Mexico City's electrification in the early twentieth century through the lens of power theft. The arrest and resulting trial of dozens of capitalinos (Mexico City residents) suspected of power theft allow us to document the nuances of policing and prosecuting a modern crime and thus to explore how notions of policing, private property, space, honor, and even decency influenced how people secured and used electricity. Using 63 cases tried before the Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Distrito Federal (Federal District Higher Court) and newspaper and legal debate on power theft, this article examines how capitalinos could flip seamlessly between the elitist, scripted, proper use of electricity and the ad-libbed, improper use that fit their needs in specific circumstances. By grounding electrification in everyday life, this article argues that capitalinos emerge as agents of technological change, people who understood the importance of electricity to transform their lives and spaces.
In early December 1901, an eclectic “inspecting team” stormed into the Hotel de Ambos Rumbos in downtown Mexico City demanding entry into room 35.1 The team—made up of Oliverio López, a perito eléctrico (electrical expert witness) for the municipal government, Gabriel Ortiz and Guillermo Feuss, legal representative and installation supervisor respectively for the Compañía Mexicana de Electricidad (CME), and a police inspector—accused the hotel of stealing electricity and was determined to prove this. The hotel manager objected, claiming that only the hotel owner, Francisco Torres, could consent to such a search and that he was absent. When the team brushed aside this news, the manager explained that the room was occupied and that the guest had left with the key. But the team was not dissuaded and secured permission from the adjacent room's occupant to use his balcony in order to enter room 35.2 As they made their entry, someone abruptly exited the room and tried to reach the roof terrace, but the police inspector swooped in and apprehended him. It was none other than Torres, the hotel owner. With the owner in hand, the team reentered the room and found their evidence. Two cable ends lay severed on the balcony, hidden from the street by a mattress and sarape resting against the balcony railing. Confident that an electrical connection had been deliberately cut, López and Feuss joined the cable ends to those found inside the room, and instantly the hotel came to life. Fifty-seven lights illuminated the hotel's stairs, office, lobby, hallways, and thirty-five guest rooms.
Historians working on daily life have emphasized the importance of looking at minutiae—the subtle aspects of ordinary matters—to appreciate the rules that governed behavior.3 The arrest and resulting trial of Torres, like dozens of other capitalinos (Mexico City residents) suspected of power theft, offer a fruitful avenue to document the nuances of the Mexican capital's electrification and “to reconstruct the texture of crime as experienced in everyday life by those who formed the majority of offenders and victims.”4 Trial testimonies reveal that no matter how legal experts interpreted the law, ordinary people held their own notion of what was fair, one that reflected the kind of lives they wanted for themselves. Yes, the accused framed statements in terms that lessened their responsibility, but the judicial records are still valuable for how these defendants drafted narratives. That is, the records help reveal what people thought was a viable explanation—or excuse—for securing for themselves electricity.
Through these cases, this article confronts our understanding of technological change in the Mexican capital and how—on the everyday level—capitalinos grappled with rapid urbanization, expanding industrialization, and technification of spaces. Images of the electrified city celebrated humanity's mastery of natural forces and resources, the inevitable advance of progress and order, but these same images concealed the contingencies and complexity that accompanied technological change. For many capitalinos, securing even a little electricity meant a few bulbs in the home or a new, more efficient piece of machinery. Trivial though it may seem now, this was for them a vital connection to and participation with improvement—of both their lives and the nation. Power theft reveals subtle aspects of electrification. By grounding electrification in everyday life, capitalinos emerge as agents of technological change, people who understood the importance of electricity to transform their lives.
Since the late nineteenth century, technology has played a dominant role in modern life, with machines among “the most evident emblems and instruments of our modernity.”5 Too often, technologies appear as “black boxes” in popular discourse, as “fixed entities that irresistibly change society and culture,” removed from the people and the ambitions that employed them. Far from dictating to people how they must be used, Thomas Misa argues, “technologies interact deeply with society and culture, [with these] interactions . . . eliciting resistance, accommodation, acceptance, and even enthusiasm.” To untangle technology's connection to how societies understood themselves and their reaction to modernity, we need to stop treating technology as a mass noun and instead, as Misa argues, “look more closely at individual technologies and inquire more carefully into social and cultural processes.”6 Depending on local situations and needs, different societies embraced various technologies, and even the same technology is not necessarily employed in the same way everywhere. This means that the idea of modernity, like the idea of technology, must be pluralized, and the relationship of people to the technology they embrace must be treated as unique and discrete.7 We must uncover the specific circumstances that shape and characterize different experiences of modernity—Mexico being no exception.
Over the last ten years, historians of technology in Mexico have documented how technology was deployed as a tool for state and nation building in the pursuit of modernity. Such scholarship has enriched our understanding of the environment under which technologies (such as the railroad, radio, and sewing machine) and technological systems and processes flourished, revealing the institutional, national, and transnational networks of power that shaped these technologies, systems, and processes; how they entered discourses of modernity, revolution, and nationhood; and the factors that facilitated and hindered local adaptation and innovation.8 New technological devices and systems became “deeply integrated into the social and cultural lives of many Mexicans.”9 By focusing on the local, Mexicans emerge as agents of technological change. Concentrating on the country's capital, a handful of historians have followed the actions of politicians, social reformers, technocrats, merchants, industrialists, and ordinary citizens to transform the human environment and to make what Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo has called the “ciudad científica” (scientific city).10 This article, informed by these studies, takes a user-centered approach to delve into the making of electrified spaces.
Instead of adopting a narrow understanding in which a given machine limits a priori how its users interact with it, I will place users and technology within a broader set of social, cultural, and economic relations.11 To establish user-technology relations, we must understand how machines became integrated into everyday life.12 We must see technological innovation through the eyes of those who witnessed it, including capitalinos charged as ladrones de luz (power thieves), those who aided and abetted them, and those who set out to stop, extort, or prosecute them.
By looking at the transgressions and the resistance of users, we can identify an electric script, an expectation of how individuals were to interact, use, or consume electricity.13 Electrification amounted to large investments of capital entering into people's private spaces. Electrical companies, with the backing of foreign investors and wealthy Mexicans, would bring power to peoples' homes, but within the confines of their home subscribers were expected to honor the terms of their contracts. Judicial records, however, demonstrate that users, authorized and unauthorized, resisted this script for consumption and frequently subverted it altogether. They would not bow to what was expected of them, especially when they thought it unfair—or, at least, when a better deal was available—and actions deemed theft in the eyes of the law seem to have received communal approval by ordinary denizens. For many capitalinos, large electric companies' expectations for how users should engage with electricity were less a final script and more a first draft, subject to revision. In revising this script, capitalinos shaped the legal system that supported it by questioning whether stealing was always a crime.
Prior to the increased attention to the history of technology, Latin American historians expanded scholarship on crime and punishment, but the two historiographical currents have yet to cross-fertilize.14 Mexico City's industrialization and urbanization created social tensions as urban designers' orderly plans for the proper use of the city—much like power companies' script for consumption—clashed with residents' quotidian demands.15 One important idea that has emerged from these studies is that the law always allowed (whether or not reluctantly) marginal groups to contest, elude, and even use the law for their benefit, and yet though cities were prime sites for the introduction of technologies, we know little about the juncture of technology and crime. What happens when we focus on technology crimes and infringements?
This essay helps to fill this gap in the historiography. The study of power theft contributes to the historiography of crime and modernity by introducing technology into the equation.16 Judicial files provide a window into the everyday conflicts surrounding the dynamic historical realities of electrification. This particular type of theft allows us to explore how notions of policing, private property, space, honor, and even decency influenced how people secured and used electricity. Capitalinos could flip seamlessly between the elitist, scripted, proper use of electricity and the ad-libbed, improper use that fit their needs in specific circumstances. As we look closely into the cases contained in the judicial files, the categorical difference between criminal and innocent breaks down and is replaced with a spectrum of those who could secure electricity reliably and affordably and those who could not. Sometimes capitalinos could secure it legally, but sometimes not.
As testimonies of the accused reveal, the interpretation of the law was not the exclusive purview of legal experts. The accused framed statements in terms that lessened responsibility. Judicial records thus become valuable not merely for what witnesses said but for how they drafted narratives. Michel de Certeau poses that by looking at the everyday, we begin to “see how [lives] are lived and ‘how sites are constructed in the interstices of the vast socio-economic systems.’” By looking to the quotidian, we come across “evidence of occurrences of resistance in which ordinary people undermined the imposed relations of power,” because although individuals “cannot escape the dominant cultural economy, . . . they can adapt it to their own ends.”17
Using evidence from both the Archivo General de la Nación (the General Archives of the Nation) and Mexico City newspapers, this article explores 63 cases brought against individuals indicted for power theft and tried before the Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Distrito Federal (TSJDF, Federal District Higher Court). These records document the frustration, indignation, and resentment that the electric companies and the police felt toward capitalinos who could, with such ease, violate the electric script and switch seamlessly between roles as paying customers and illegal pilferers (often, as we will see below, performing both simultaneously). For the companies and the police, the capital was nothing less than a city of suspects. Yet these legal records provide more than the accusations leveled by prosecutors, company officials, and eyewitness experts. The records also contain the voices of defendants, their attorneys, and their friends and family. These voices raised powerful questions that push us past the celebrated images of electrification and toward the experiences of those who lived through it: Who would get electricity? Could some have preferential access? Was it ever fair to steal electricity? Was stealing electricity even a crime? In the trials considered here, Mexico forged answers.
Policing Scripted Consumption
The Porfirian regime (1876–1911) saw technology as a tool to transform the country into a modern nation, and to secure that technology the regime instituted legal reforms in the 1880s and 1890s that “strengthened private property rights and foreign investors' power vis-à-vis the state.”18 The sanctity of private property would be the bedrock of a capitalist Mexican society and an assurance to all-important foreign investors. Theft of electricity—of property, really—transgressed the foundation of the modern Mexico that Porfirio Díaz envisioned, and he made sure that private companies knew that they had the full support of the state to curtail this violation.
Enthusiastic partners, the companies actively policed consumption, with entire departments devoted to detecting illegal use. Discovering fraud fell to ordinary company workers. For instance, by 1907 Mexican Light and Power (Mexlight) had a dedicated department of 35 inspectors who walked the streets day and night seeking out theft, their eyes fixed on the lines that crisscrossed the city. Undercover inspectors and informants aided their work.19 Besides surveying overhead power lines, inspectors visited commercial and residential buildings unannounced, checking for illegal hookups to power supply lines, unauthorized reconnections, or meter tampering. In early twentieth-century Mexico City it was rare for public and private agencies to coordinate their activities efficiently, but this was not the case when it came to dealing with ladrones de luz. The startling speed with which larcenists were collared suggests how important electricity was to the government's vision of modernity. In the Hotel de Ambos Rumbos case with which this essay opened, suspicions of theft emerged when company employees noticed that the electric meters' readings in the hotel's vicinity were higher than expected given the clients on Calle Vergara. The CME legal representative Gabriel Ortiz approached the Ministerio Público (Public Prosecutor's Office) to finger the hotel as the source of the theft, and on the very next day the authorities assembled the eclectic team that raided the hotel.
The consolidation of the city's electric power market by 1905 was a double-edged sword: more people had power, but authority over that power fell to fewer companies. With the inauguration of the Necaxa River hydroelectric plant, Mexlight flooded the market with cheaper power, putting other electricity companies out of business. In 1906, Mexico City's city council (ayuntamiento) granted the company an unprecedented 97-year concession, turning Mexlight into a monopoly.20 This simplified matters for Mexico City's leaders, but the resultant consolidation meant that ex-employees of the now-defunct smaller competitors were available to lend their services to those who wanted to bypass the monopoly. This spurred a cat-and-mouse game for the next decade.
This type of theft rose in the context of an ongoing transformation of the city's electrical landscape. With cheaper and more abundant electric energy available, the capital offered advantages to both established and new industries. Along with better communication and transportation services, electricity increased the city's overall competitive edge in industry.21 By 1909, the secretary for Mexlight's board of directors claimed that power demand had “increased so rapidly” in Mexico City and the Federal District that it had exhausted the Necaxa River plant's initial 40,000-horsepower capacity, pressing the company to complete an expansion “faster than . . . proposed and foreshadowed” just a year before. Upon completion of this expansion, the plant's capacity would reach about 100,000 horsepower.22
The easiest of the inspectors' many responsibilities was uncovering illegal hookups to power lines. These were often stunningly rudimentary, consisting of nothing more than a wire running from a home or business to the nearest central power line. The crude splice that joined the two was for inspectors the telltale sign of stolen power. If the owner of a property suspected of electricity theft could not provide a contract immediately to the inspectors, Mexlight could arrive within hours to take the unauthorized line down. Inspectors were diligent and efficient, but Mexico City was already large and constantly growing, and illegal connections could go undetected for days, months, and even years. Even when Mexlight disconnected service, capitalinos could simply reconnect the wires themselves or arrange for someone to do so. Rita Arias had been a Mexlight client until late October 1906, when her service was interrupted for nonpayment. For two weeks thereafter, claimed the newspaper El Imparcial, she nightly slung a gancho de hierro (metal hook) over the nearby uninsulated main power line and drew a steady current into her home. Inspectors discovered the maneuver one morning when she forgot to take the gancho down. No mention was made of the danger of her action.23 Arias's method of securing electricity was especially crude, but any unauthorized tapping of power lines was inherently dangerous. Besides the obvious possibility of death, stealing electricity risked fire. Fear of conflagrations intensified in the late nineteenth century as the establishment and expansion of factories and workshops within city limits brought hazardous materials, flammable substances, and machinery prone to sparking and explosion.24 These dangerous elements often sat in factories and workshops exploiting unauthorized electrical connections, with thrown-together wiring and faulty circuits. At the Hotel de Ambos Rumbos, exposed wiring touched ceilings, tapestries, and bed canopies, but luckily nothing ignited. Other thieves were not so fortunate: a hair salon in the neighborhood of Santa Ana nearly went up in flames in 1901.25
The rudimentary methods and lack of care put into certain unauthorized connections meant that inspectors had to remain constantly alert, and night was their greatest ally. In the darkness, inspectors walked the city looking for bright electric lights where there should have been none. Nighttime made clear that it was not just workshops or penny-pinching business owners who stole power, as Inspector Gabriel Abrego discovered in 1912. Abrego appears to have been exceptionally diligent—his name surfaces again and again in the records—and during one of his nocturnal rounds he noticed electric light coming from the home of Miguel Palacios, whose service had been interrupted for nonpayment.26 Palacios did not confess until at the police station, but when he did so Abrego was also able to squeeze out Palacios's reason: he wanted to host a dance party for friends later that night.
The inspectors' work was not easy; property owners—or their proxies, like a maid or a hotel manager—could deny entry, as they often did. Inspectors had to be equal parts attentive, creative, and tenacious. Inspectors would conduct surveillance to confirm suspicions and document the extent of clandestine pilfering. In 1913, for instance, Carlos Paliza, one of Mexlight's most astute and active inspectors, received instructions to investigate the suspiciously low consumption levels reported at the Monte Carlo and Salón México theaters. After staking out both establishments, Paliza caught Ignacio Nápoles, vaguely identified as an electric company employee, manipulating the electric meter at the Monte Carlo.27
After catching thieves brazenly lighting up their properties at night, the simplest and most effective way to uncover ladrones de luz was to go into homes and find the wires and tampered-with electric meters, but until 1905 it was an open question as to whether police and company agents could do this. In that year Isidoro Díaz, a store owner, brought a 12,000-peso lawsuit for slander, allanamiento de morada (breaking and entering), and property damage against Inspector Ernesto Lobo of the Compañía Explotadora de las Fuerzas Hidro-Eléctricas de San Ildefonso. Lobo had demanded Díaz's arrest on the charge that his store, Las Dos Estaciones, was using a brincador (a jumper cable that bypassed the electric meter) and was illegally feeding power to two homes. A judge agreed and imprisoned Díaz for eight days, but upon release an enraged Díaz sued Lobo. Lobo argued in his defense that the seventh clause of the electric lighting contract signed by Díaz authorized company employees to carry out installations and inspect the meters at any time. Furthermore, Lobo claimed that article 637 of the 1871 penal code reserved the charge of allanamiento de morada for entry of a house, dwelling, or bedroom used as a habitación (living space); a convenience store, he explained, “is not used as a living space but instead was an establishment open to the public.” It took two years, but in 1907 the TSJDF confirmed the lower court's sentence that Lobo had committed no crime.28 It was a victory for Mexlight, but not one that capitalinos accepted willingly. Subscribers, although contractually obliged to allow inspectors entrance, could delay access to their property; if the subscribers were absent, their domestic workers could deny it altogether. Furthermore, contract clauses did not apply to nonsubscribers.29
The inspectors were as diverse as the city itself and reflected the migration of Mexicans from the country to the metropolis. The energetic inspector Paliza, 34 years old and single in 1906, was from Mexico State.30 Gabriel Aranda, from the state of Guanajuato, was in 1916 a 39-year-old widower.31 Gabriel Abrego, 42 years old in 1912, was married and hailed from Chilpancingo, Guerrero.32 Mexico City's inspectors also reflected the foreign immigration taking place during the Porfiriato. Javier de la Vega, 44 years old in 1918, was born in Santander, Spain; Mexlight's supervisor of inspectors in 1909, 31-year-old Juan Boesch, hailed from Switzerland.33
Inspectors lived all over the city—an important fact considering that inspectors were most effective in their own neighborhoods. In April 1906, El Imparcial narrated the apprehension of Enrique Lara, who owned a diner along Callejón del Garrote and had stopped lighting service there a few months after signing up.34 He secretly reestablished the connection; an inspector believed he had been stealing power for about six months, at a value of over 200 pesos total. The newspaper report never named the inspector, but coincidentally, Inspector Paliza resided on Callejón del Garrote, at building number 2, apartment number 5.
Inspectors were regular people who, via the threat of fines and jail time, held real power over their neighbors and fellow citizens. Such power, as the case against Antonio Vázquez Suárez demonstrates, was susceptible to abuse. Sometime in 1912, a rumor reached the offices of Mexlight that someone in the El Chorito neighborhood had been installing “combinations,” possibly brincadores, in order to cheat meters. Tasked with locating these, inspectors Ignacio Magaña and Manuel Rodríguez later wrote that they had learned that Vázquez Suárez sold brincadores for 75 cents each and that they had found one at his house. They claimed that immediately upon finding the brincador, Magaña had left to find two gendarmes to bear witness while Rodríguez stayed behind to guard it.35 After an inspection of Vázquez Suárez's house by court personnel, police arrested Vázquez Suárez, who maintained that he knew absolutely nothing about lighting, let alone electricity. If a brincador were in his house, he added, one of the inspectors must have planted it before calling the gendarmes; he suspected Rodríguez, with whom, he claimed, he had fought in the past.36 Rodríguez denied this during his initial court appearance and promised to provide the court a list of names and addresses of those who had bought brincadores from Vázquez Suárez. However, Vázquez Suárez's allegation that vengeance motivated Rodríguez became credible when two character witnesses swore that the inspector and the accused knew each other and had been love rivals.37 Irrespective of the allegation's weight, the judge ordered Vázquez Suárez's release because the prosecution could not determine that the cable confiscated at this house was indeed a brincador, precisely where the wire was placed in relation to the electric meter, or even that the wire could have served to manipulate the meter.
An accusation of theft was no minor matter. With it came searches, possible trials, and, frequently, fines and jail time. The spectacle of raids made questionable private behavior public knowledge. These scenes were witnessed by neighbors and friends, people who constituted an “insider audience” who held unique “power” because they “had a collective memory for a person's reputation and honor.”38 In early twentieth-century Mexico, a world without credit scores or other objective means to establish risk, any questions about one's trustworthiness and righteousness had direct social and financial consequences. This explains why Isidoro Díaz, in setting his aforementioned lawsuit against Ernesto Lobo at 12,000 pesos, asked for only 1,000 pesos in lost business and another 72 pesos in legal fees but just under 11,000 pesos for “the physical distress and moral angst suffered behind bars.”39 As uncomfortable as his brief stint in jail had been, the real suffering would come in the form of lost business. Any diminution of his moral standing in the community would mean higher costs for doing business.
Moral Users beyond the Zaguán
Despite Mexlight's established legal right to penetrate private spaces, capitalinos pushed back and not only questioned whether these intrusions were fair but argued that they violated gendered, classed, and moral understandings of space. Capitalinos went beyond the question of legal rights and asked a more profound cultural question: Was it decent for the inspectors to command entrance into private spaces? Mexicans attached moral values to their spaces, and as Sonya Lipsett-Rivera notes, residential homes “were a vital part of the way that Mexicans defined themselves as moral beings.” “The main door was the most potent signifier of morality and proper behavior,” as she points out: an open door during the day signified that the home was respectable and had nothing to hide, while a closed door at night kept out those with dishonest intentions.40 The threshold was a liminal space (associated with but not entirely part of the house), a physical demarcation between the private and the public. When a property owner was confronted by an inspector, it was only proper—indeed, moral—to allow the inspector into these threshold spaces, but the moral calculus flipped when inspectors (with the force of the law behind them) demanded to go further. It was there where inspectors and gendarmes awaited permission to conduct inspections. In larger homes they were addressed from the balconies or made to wait in the zaguán, a vestibule at the house's entrance, a traditional Spanish architectural element. In practice, these spaces served a gatekeeping function. If theft of power were indeed taking place beyond the zaguán, indignation at inspectors violating a homeowner's right to privacy was a convenient pretext for avoiding discovery.
This dynamic was exemplified when Inspector Manuel Rodríguez stopped at the home of German citizen Federico Jah, in the same year that Abrego ruined Palacios's party.41 During his rounds Rodríguez had noticed what he suspected to be an illegal installation, but when he knocked during the day the maid who came to the gate claimed that the house had no electric service. Mexican custom demanded that guests be invited into the zaguán, which was considered the public portion of the house. The maid did so, but she did not allow him to go further; she had no obligation under city ordinances to give the inspector access to the home. Rodríguez, however, had seen enough. Exposed wires in the hallway all but proved Jah's theft, and though the maid was right that electricity was not flowing through them at that moment, Rodríguez could tell that they could readily be connected and disconnected from local power lines. He came back after dark, accompanied by another employee and three gendarmes, but this time the maid denied him entrance. Rodríguez and his party could only watch from the street as electric lights were turned off and candles lit.42
Capitalinos thus challenged the company's right to penetrate private spaces by tacitly alluding to gendered understandings of space, in which dichotomies of order/disorder and home/street meant that perceived sources of disorder were pushed into the street. Women's refusal to allow inspections is understandable within a gendered honor system centered around the home. Women's honra (honor conferred by virtue) was intimately linked to sexuality, and their reputation was bound up with “their chastity as maidens and then their loyalty as wives and discrete respectability as widows.” Should a woman do something that could be seen as unvirtuous, such as allowing unknown men into her home, she risked tarnishing the reputation of not only herself but also the men in her life, since women were theoretically under their control; a stain on her honor was “an attack not only on male honor but also on the very masculinity of their husbands, brothers, or fathers.”43 A woman's reputation had implications for her whole family, and thus—even more so than the men in their lives—women fought hard to guard it, going as far as to legally and physically confront those who endangered it.44 Thus when an inspector demanded entrance to a woman's home, it was inescapably a test: Would she allow her virtue to be questioned by the community?
Middle- and upper-class women alone in a house felt empowered to deny access, in violation of the power contract, based on a notion of virtue. The penetration of private spaces by company employees, particularly when accompanied by gendarmes, was often interpreted as an insult to the residents' honra. This is why Jah's maid denied entry: the realm of its patriarch, a house was not to be penetrated by other men in his absence. No capitalino would bat an eye at denying access on those grounds alone. In 1918, inspectors and gendarmes seeking to inspect city councilman Angel Montaño's house were asked by his wife to wait in the zaguán while she sent for her husband.45 Tellingly, the inspectors obliged.
Not every capitalino had a servant to stall an inspector, let alone a gated wall or a balcony from which to converse with such officials. Many were too poor to rent or own a house and resided in either a vivienda (a shared space within a building) or cuartos (rooms, the humblest form of lodging and one of the most popular). For these capitalinos, as Lipsett-Rivera argues, a stark separation between public and private space was absent, which meant that one's actions were under greater scrutiny.46 Having so many people living in such close proximity could be a blessing or a curse for those accused of theft. Caretakers or friendly neighbors could help conceal questionable behavior, as servants did in more affluent homes. Yet these poorer suspects were also beset by many more eyes potentially watching for opportunities to settle old scores.
Cases involving women thus deserve consideration, 10 of which exist among the 63 TSJDF cases that I have located pertaining to power theft from 1901 to 1918. Although only one of these women identified as a widow, many of them were likely heads of household in charge of securing their homes' lighting sources. Mexico was not alone in the early twentieth century in imagining the home as a safe, ordered refuge run by virtuous women, in stark contrast to the disorder—even violence—of the street. The capital historically had large numbers of female-headed households, an intrinsic part of Mexico City during the Porfiriato that expanded throughout the Mexican Revolution as many more women than men migrated there.47 Indeed, the disruptive nature of war increased internal migration and women's overall vulnerability in the capital, which in addition to the already discussed cultural consequences meant that women felt entitled to refuse when inspectors demanded entrance into their home.
The myriad scenarios emerging from these inspections reveal that when suspicious inspectors—men (all of them) who believed in the justness of their work—knocked on doors and demanded entry, they were not simply trying to penetrate homogeneous, interchangeable structures. Rather, they were approaching spaces embedded with meaning for those who carried out lives within them. What that space was and who occupied it mattered. An open shop may have been public enough to warrant easy access with little pushback, but capitalinos bestowed on even a busy apartment vestibule—and certainly a gated house—a degree of sanctity and privacy that they would not easily or happily surrender. Likewise, who answered the inspector's knocks mattered; they were not all mere clients. A poor man living in a room may not have had the moral prerogative of a widowed woman or the financial prerogative of a wealthier businessman. But all had to weigh carefully whom they allowed into their space.
Cognizant of these moral connotations, Mexlight attempted to frame inspections as a safety measure rather than as policing. In late 1907, not long after the higher court ruled that inspectors could enter businesses, Mexlight's manager, Charles Cahan, claimed that a considerable number of commercial and residential houses were fire-prone.48 Business owners placed themselves in harm's way, Cahan declared, by carrying out installations themselves or by hiring individuals whose credentials could not be verified.49 Inspectors determined that of Mexlight's 30,000 clients, 3,000 had dangerous installations—installations that put whole neighborhoods in danger.50 The company had earlier sent letters warning customers of this and explaining that fixing these installations could mean considerable savings, but only 300 clients had responded by the time that Cahan made his plea. Clients, Cahan concluded, had failed to understand that inspections were to their benefit. The clients might have seen their decision to bar inspectors from their spaces differently.
Cahan was right that faulty circuits were dangerous, and Mexlight decided that if capitalinos would not voluntarily allow workers to fix these circuits, the company would avail itself of its newfound legal right to send inspectors for unannounced visits. Clients, in turn, went to greater lengths to camouflage brincadores. The detection of brincadores thus required increased vigilance.
Hierarchy of Thieves
A “plague of robbers,” all members of the lower classes, had descended on the metropolis—at least that was the perception of social commentators at the turn of the twentieth century.51 In his diagnosis of criminality, jurist Miguel Macedo insisted on the urgent need to erect “a levee against the criminal wave threatening to bury our pueblo.”52
Data on the extent of power theft in the capital is sparse. This was a crime, though, that did not incite spasms of dread and anxiety among capitalinos. There was no study of ladrones de luz as a single criminal class. Then as now little is known about them; impressions and unsupported assertions have had to stand in for facts. In 1907, for instance, manager Cahan claimed that electrical theft was so widespread that arresting all ladrones de luz would mean overflowing Belem jail; this is why, he went on, Mexlight only charged those against whom there was substantial evidence. With those who carried out petty theft or defrauded the company without malice, Mexlight reached individual settlements. Some measure of the problem can be gained from Cahan's allegation that in the preceding months company inspectors had discovered more than 300 theft cases, only a handful of which were significant enough for criminal charges.53 The manager's assertions, which were admittedly self-serving, indicated that if the company charged someone for theft, he or she must have done something egregiously wrong.
By the 1910s, commercial establishment owners and residential owners were brought to court in nearly equal numbers by Mexlight. As the problem of power theft grew in the commercial and manufacturing sectors, Mexlight shifted from Cahan's earlier, more moderate stance on punishment. His successor, Haro Harrsem, took an aggressive stance, bringing more criminal charges in the belief that this would end the abuses of those acting in bad faith.54 Yet despite Mexlight's surveillance efforts, cases continued to proliferate. Without disclosing their methodology, the newspaper El Demócrata argued that as much as 80 to 90 percent of energy subscribers in 1924 used the so-called diablitos (little devils), described as an illegal device that diverted electricity from power lines.55
The growth of electrical consumption in Mexico City had significant consequences for the nature of work in both factories and workshops, but nowhere was electrification more transformative than in semimechanized workshops.56 Electrical power brought new machinery, and new machinery led to new workshop organization, in which unskilled workers reduced or altogether eliminated the need for traditional artisans.57 Small and medium-sized workshops remained in operation, but many crafts came to be dominated by a few companies organized around large, semimechanized workshops that in turn placed pressure on smaller enterprises.
There was no single profile for ladrones de luz. There existed an economic hierarchy among the power thieves. On the top were factories, hotels, and theaters, who comprised those ladrones de luz stealing the largest quantities of energy. Factories employed large amounts of electricity to power countless types of machinery for extended periods.58 Electric companies offered several types of contracts for these establishments. A factory could request electric light, heat, or power service, or a combination of these, and the resulting contract would either guarantee the operation of engines at a predetermined horsepower or power for a given number of electric lights. Of course, not all clients, even large, well-established businesses, honored their contracts. For instance, in 1903 Rodolfo Schuzandubel, CME's manager, accused the owners of the La Michoacana tobacco factory of theft.59 During an inspection, Schuzandubel found that workers had installed a power line to run machinery, in violation of the factory's contract with CME restricting the use of electric energy to lighting.60 A subtler form of theft among businesses involved tampering with electric meters. Nápoles, the electrician caught in flagrante at the Monte Carlo, admitted that among theaters in the city it was common practice to reverse the meters' dials.61 Given their energy needs, other large, commercial establishments unsurprisingly also engaged in substantial fraud.
After factories, hotels, and theaters, the next category of ladrones de luz, and perhaps the majority of those arrested as ladrones de luz, was small businesses, often sole proprietorships: grocery stores, dairies, diners, drugstores, hair salons, tailors, shoe stores, and mechanic shops. From the accounts contained in the court cases against these violators, it is clear that in the second half of the Porfiriato—as restrictions on entrepreneurship lessened, more people began business ventures, and competition intensified—entrepreneurs did all they could to keep a competitive edge on rivals.62 Yet while the number of middling business owners grew, so too did the power of monopolies, to whom the former collectively lost political, social, and economic influence.63 Sole proprietors existed on razor-thin profit margins and scrutinized every expense. Establishing safe and professional electric installations, signing power contracts, and paying for energy consumption all were unprofitable.
Finally, at the bottom of the economic hierarchy among ladrones de luz were homeowners who siphoned off electricity to improve their quality of life. They most commonly used the power to light domestic spaces at night, but in a world of expanding electrical possibilities, they could find other uses too. The defense of Vázquez Suárez, the capitalino who had potentially been framed for selling brincadores, is telling in this regard: he claimed that he had no need for such a device because he only used enough power to light his home for half an hour every night, for which he had a contract. He directed authorities to instead investigate homes with commercial equipment, a heater, bathroom and kitchen appliances, or a clothes iron.
There is one last, shadowy group that must be considered among the ladrones de luz: those who eked out a living making the illegal electrical connections and the mechanisms for defrauding electric companies. Adept individuals such as mechanics, electricians, and current or former electric company employees sold or bartered their skills in handling electric lines. These local professionals joined a cadre of homegrown inventors to expand electrical use—just not according to the script promoted by electrical companies.64 Sometimes their efforts were as simple as splicing a line or installing a brincador. However, there are examples of more ingenious and skillful means for stealing electricity. The most sophisticated was reported in 1911 by Nueva Era: a miniature transformer known among electricians as the “Palmer transformer,” named after its inventor, a former Mexlight employee whose first name was not given. The device moved the meter's dials backward once installed.65
How many diablitos, brincadores, and illegal splices were there in Mexico City? The inspectors and electric companies never knew, in spite of their best estimates and wild guesses, which means that neither do we. But tellingly, no one dismissed the problem as insignificant; electric companies believed the problem large enough to justify squads of inspectors to stop it. Yet capitalinos, on the verge of a technologically transformative moment, were not going to accept that this life-altering resource would be rationed out according to who could pay. They believed that they had the right to a modern, comfortable life, and they would defy the inspectors to secure it. The companies, in turn, went to further lengths by calling on the judiciary to safeguard their right to profit.
When Is Stealing Not a Crime?
Power theft challenged the Mexican judiciary system, jurists, and lawyers. For over three decades before the Hotel de Ambos Rumbos raid, article 368 of the 1871 penal code defined robo (theft) as “the appropriation of a cosa mueble [movable thing] without right or the consent of its legitimate owner.”66 This definition served as the basis for prosecuting electricity theft, and thus defense lawyers naturally probed its limits. Under these mounting challenges and criticism, jurists called for reform.
Lawyers challenged the prosecution of electrical theft under article 368 on two intertwined grounds: the fact that no penal law proscribed power theft, and the nature of electricity. Jacinto Pallares, a prominent jurist of the Porfiriato and the lead attorney in the defense of Francisco Torres, owner of the Hotel de Ambos Rumbos, claimed that although his client's actions were reprehensible he had violated no penal law. The application of article 368 to his client's case, he insisted, violated article 14 of the Mexican constitution, which barred judgments based on interpretation of penal laws and demanded instead that laws be applied according to their letter. That is, for an act to be considered felonious and punishable, the penal law had to include it in literal, precise, and unequivocal terms. According to articles 368 and 370 of the penal code (the latter of which defined the precise moment when an action turned into theft), theft was the appropriation of someone else's cosa mueble and was perpetrated when the thief literally held the item in his or her hands. Given this legal precept, Pallares asked whether it were even possible for a thief to hold in his or her hands “a current that shocks, often knocking down the careless or stupid individual.”67
Judge Ismael Elizondo, who heard the case against Torres, suggested that articles 368 and 370 did apply to power theft, as he judged electricity a cosa mueble. In legal parlance, he claimed, cosas (things) and bienes (properties) were synonymous and constituted all that made up a person's estate. Elizondo explained that “no one could deny that electricity, whether called a fluid, current, energy, or what have you, forms today part of mankind's wealth” that has been “imprisoned between his hands, using it as a lucrative force in industry.”68 It was no longer debatable whether electric current was a thing, because it had been commercialized and was thus susceptible to appropriation. Elizondo considered it indisputable that electricity could be transmitted and transported and was therefore deemed movable.
Pallares, reading the law literally, challenged Elizondo's definition. The jurist contended that theft required a thing capable of being grabbed, as only such met the condition of being movable. In other words, only a physical body that could be “isolated, dispersed, individualized, and independent of other bodies” could be stolen.69 Legally, there was no theft unless the item passed from the possession of its legitimate owner to the individual who committed the crime. Only physical seizure constituted theft as fundamentally defined in articles 368 and 370. Prominent penologist Demetrio Sodi supported Pallares's stance, arguing that two cardinal elements constituted theft: the object had to be seized from the owner's possession (not handed over voluntarily or via error or fraud), and the object had to be movable. Sodi found it inconceivable that electricity, given its nature, could be dispossessed by merely installing a connection between the electricity company's wires. The electric current, he reasoned, remained under the “full and absolute possession” of the company that generated it because the company could at any time suspend, reduce, withdraw, or cut service. Basically, Sodi argued, theft—that is, physical dispossession—was impossible given electricity's nature.70
Torres's case raised difficult questions regarding the new energy's regulation. Despite Pallares's challenge to Elizondo's interpretation, an appellate court upheld Torres's sentence and denied his amparo (writ of protection).71 The appellate judge, José Saavedra, argued that Torres had committed theft, even if the legal definition of this crime in the penal code did not apply to electrical theft. It was evident to the judge that the code's authors had never envisioned the existence of electric lighting and that therefore the code could not have legislated for it. He held that lawmakers had simply not yet had time to legislate on the recent advancements; as if in response to his ruling, calls for reform intensified in the case's aftermath.72 Still, there were holdouts who maintained that power theft was indeed penalized in the 1871 code. Judge Enrique Peña y Aguayo was one of them, but even he considered it convenient to add an article specific to electricity to avoid “twisted interpretations.”73
A consensus crystallized as a project to reform the law developed.74 Public defender José del Castillo, who believed that power theft was reaching alarming levels, recommended streamlining article 368 by suppressing the word mueble and called for harsher punishment. If he had his way, anyone given a sentence of over a year would go to penitentiary colonies and, upon release, take up residence away from urban centers, under police surveillance.75 Though he disagreed with Pallares's arguments on behalf of his client Torres, Judge Elizondo did agree on the need for reform. Having argued for the applicability of the current penal code, Elizondo nevertheless recognized that to avoid controversies and prevent the crime of power theft—which he feared would only grow more frequent in the absence of clear laws—the definition of theft needed to include the pillaging of all currents and fluids incorporeal and intangible. Only then, he argued, would the interests of companies and individuals be guaranteed.76
Everyone involved with the Torres case agreed that he was no saint and that he had taken electricity for which he did not pay. The question was, Had he actually broken a law? Though Torres personally lost, on this point his lawyers had actually made a shockingly effective case. Whether prosecutor or defendant, judge or third-party jurist, everyone agreed that the law was unclear and that, given the demand for electricity, capitalinos would likely try to find any loophole through which they could siphon power. Something had to be done, or no one, domestic or foreign, would dare invest in Mexico. However—as the electric companies' own inspectors already knew—crafting reform would be easier than enforcing it.
The Case of La Velocitan
In 1906, not long after the juridical chaos of the Torres case, La Velocitan Fábrica de Cueros, a Mexico City leather tannery, joined the list of enterprises accused of power theft.77 Located in Santa Crucita, less than two miles from the Zócalo, La Velocitan was no small enterprise. It was the largest tannery in the country, with a mere dozen competitors; the company had the capacity to produce 300 leather soles daily.78 The tannery had developed well-thought-out plans to defraud Mexlight, to which end they specially trained a set of employees.
The tannery owed its name and industrial capacity to the Velocitan process of quick tannage that promised to save time, trouble, and money. La Velocitan, established as a public limited company in 1898, mirrored the city's manufacturing companies. The company, like much of the commerce, real estate, and large-scale industry in the capital, was controlled by a tight-knit group of mostly foreign-born investors.79 Spanish and French shareholders based in Brussels had acquired rights to exploit the Durio brothers' patent to the Velocitan process; these investors also established a tannery in Barcelona, which also specialized in the manufacture of belting, soles, and harnesses.80
Internationally, the increased market for leather coincided with the new quick tanning process and the introduction of new energy sources. Industry commentators could not hide their glee at the changes. Armed with technology and financial muscle, La Velocitan entered the Mexican market at a time when large quantities of bovine leather were needed to make bands for new industrial machinery, and the company's founders clearly wanted to enter this market with an enormous lead over rivals.81 The tannery's preferred method involved soaking skins in a revolving drum filled with a liquid that promised to accelerate the handling of unhaired hide, a modest modification that paid handsome dividends.82
In March 1906, Inspector Paliza brought a complaint to the Ministerio Público against La Velocitan.83 A simple examination of the business's accounts had raised his suspicions; the estimated power needed to run the factory's machinery was much higher than the meter readings, evidence that theft, he vaguely added, had been happening for some time, at a cost of no less than 20,000 pesos to Mexlight. From his office, he had no way of being sure that a crime had taken place or how it had been carried out, but an on-site inspection resulted in the arrest of manager Juan Caffarel, technical director Eugenio Heinriche, and mechanic Reyes Granados. During his first interrogation, the 24-year-old Granados admitted that he had overseen the factory's electric engines for years and explained how the fraud was perpetrated.
With the crime clearly established, the ministerio next set out to assign blame, but there would be less clarity and far less fairness here. The Oficina Electro-Técnica Mexicana, an agency tasked with verifying electrical installations, estimated 43,455 pesos in damages. La Velocitan settled this bill within a week, and almost immediately Mexlight dropped charges against the tannery. However, Mexlight did not drop charges against the factory's employees. A judge indicted Caffarel, Heinriche, and Granados three months later, and the tannery's vertical labor hierarchy would be revealed in the resultant trials. Per Caffarel's instructions, for about a year Granados had between 20 and 22 times a month disconnected the cable connecting the transformer to the meter, a special maneuver that did not impede the engines' operation but prevented the meter from registering consumption. The mechanic declared that another employee, Paz Villagaña, had carried out the task until becoming ill; before his death, he had managed to train Granados, even leaving to Granados his set of rubber gloves and electrical pliers. According to Granados, Villagaña gave him a little black notebook to track usage, but unfortunately he had misplaced it, and thus it could not be entered as evidence. For his efforts Granados was “rewarded” by Caffarel with ten extra pesos monthly.84
Granados's honesty did not serve him well, and he quickly found himself alone. Caffarel, a 30-year-old French citizen and the tannery's manager since September 1905, denied any involvement in or knowledge of the operation; he claimed only to have learned of the fraud when the police arrived at the factory. He said that even the gloves and pliers in Granados's possession did not belong to the company. Caffarel acknowledged the ten-peso monthly payments but maintained that they were a “custom” that had preceded his arrival at La Velocitan—a bonus for “cleaning the engines.” Two other employees also denied knowing about or participating in the maneuver. French tanner Justino Gibaux admitted that he had “heard, but did not remember from whom,” of the fraudulent disconnections, but he claimed that it was not until the inspection that he had learned who executed the operation and how it occurred. Likewise, technical director Heinriche, a German citizen employed by the tannery for seven years who was strictly speaking in charge of the tannery's machinery, also distanced himself from the fraud. He offered broad generalities, explaining that the engines had been run by steam until three years ago, that Gibaux oversaw the machinery used for manufacturing leather goods, and that Granados was responsible for the electric engines. Neither of these employees, Heinriche stressed, reported directly to him. He claimed to be dumbfounded regarding the matter. Prosecutors offered Granados the chance to revise his original statement, but he only reiterated that two other individuals knew of the maneuver: Caffarel and Andrés, an employee who had left three months before the scheme's exposure. Granados's and Gibaux's testimonies absolved Heinriche; despite Granados's assertions, the court ordered Caffarel's release on the grounds that his responsibility “had not been proven.”85
Matters only got worse for Granados. Left to be the scapegoat, he was easily convicted by the court—but in absentia. He had contracted pneumonia; he was unable to attend the indictment hearing, already rescheduled once because of his illness. Granados's lawyer entered a motion for acquittal, claiming that there was scarce evidence for a conviction since his client, with no criminal history, had not benefited personally from the alleged theft. The judge denied the motion and found Granados guilty of illegally taking electricity by preventing the meter's proper functioning. He was sentenced to either 100 days in jail or a 1,000-peso fine. The punishment was not fulfilled; Granados died a day later from pulmonary tuberculosis.86
That some ladrones de luz were foreigners is not surprising given Mexico City's cosmopolitanism. By the turn of the century, about 60,000 foreigners resided in the capital, mostly from Spain and the United States but also from Great Britain, Germany, and France.87 They were part of not only the capital's upper classes but also its middle and working sectors, because during the Porfiriato foreign technicians installed and managed the first wave of industrial-scale production systems.88 Given that ladrones de luz often referred to foreigners in the course of admitting guilt, it is feasible that in certain cases tampering techniques could have been passed along as part of the exchange of know-how between local workers and technicians and their foreign overseers.
The malfeasance at La Velocitan may appear exceptional—why, after all, would a dominant manufacturer, already enjoying several advantages over its competition, engage in theft?—but sizable factories and workshops in Mexico City were prone to theft. The introduction of electrical machinery not only altered the nature of work and production but also, especially in the large factories, created specialized positions to oversee electrical machines and engines. These employees became deft with electrical matters. Such was the case with Villagaña, Granados, and perhaps others at La Velocitan. Reducing power consumption seems to have been part of their position or at least a special task assigned to them and rewarded with a bonus. Granados's training, his tracking of consumption levels in a little black book, and the regularity with which he disconnected the cable from the meter indicate that his actions were not impromptu; they were an essential part of the production process, developed consciously in the hope of deceiving Mexlight and escaping the inspectors' attentive eyes. Nonetheless, we must consider how free mechanics actually were within a factory's hierarchy to reject questionable tasks. For an ordinary worker, ten more pesos a month could constitute a substantial raise. Irrespective of the pressure placed on employees by their company, that was money that would be hard to turn down.
To Survive Cutthroat Competition
Commensurate with their size, medium-sized businesses like cantinas, bakeries, molinos (maize mills), and various commercial houses carried out thefts less audacious than those of large factories like La Velocitan, as these businesses consumed far less electricity (typically powering one or two engines or a small circuit of incandescent lamps) and consequently often lacked the skilled personnel needed to execute more ambitious acts of theft. Still, electrical consumption was one more expense as they struggled to remain afloat amid an economic downturn in the twentieth century's first decade and an armed struggle in its second decade. With varying success, they contracted outside individuals to help get out from under the weight of electric bills.
Two years after La Velocitan was prosecuted for theft, a case against a molinero demonstrated the relationships that contributed to theft within the trade. At San Antonio, a molino on Calle de Pueblita owned by Tomás Sánchez, Inspector Alfonso Gómez found that the electric meter was not functioning because of a missing fuse.89 Gómez believed that it had been intentionally removed, but Sánchez argued that there was a simple explanation: three days earlier, a carter hauling a maize sack had accidentally banged against the device, knocking the fuse to the floor. No one had touched the meter since. Manuel Aviera, a Spanish citizen and friend of Sánchez, vouched for the story. Aviera had bought several maize sacks but, with no room at his establishment, had asked Sánchez to store them for him. Sánchez agreed and made available the room that housed his mill's engine. When all the maize arrived the pile was enormous, almost touching the room's ceiling, and a few days later, when a handyman and a cart driver came to pick the maize up, they had so little room that they knocked into the meter.
Inspector Gómez was having none of it. Based on the molino's average daily power consumption history, he estimated that the loss came to 1,089 pesos. Prosecutors indicted Sánchez and sent him to Belem, where he elaborated on his earlier testimony. Sánchez explained that if he had not replaced the fuse after the carter accidentally had knocked it loose, it was only because he had no idea that the meter needed a fuse to properly record consumption. However, he went on to claim that he had feared that he would install it incorrectly and cause an accident. Such explanations were not uncommon; another molinera tried for theft had assured the inspector that she did not know who could have installed a brincador because, fearing an accident, she never got close to the meter.90
With time, Sánchez became more desperate and admitted to some wrongdoing but not to electrical theft. According to Sánchez, the discrepancy between past and current power usage was due to competition. Until the previous year, his molino had enjoyed a monopoly in the area. After rumors reached him of plans to establish mills nearby, he approached Mexlight to explain that power service to any such future mills would be extremely detrimental for him. A Mexlight lawyer assured him that the company would not service those mills, but the promise was short-lived. Soon after their meeting, four mills opened in the area, and Mexlight offered service to any of these that requested it, undermining Sánchez's monopoly. As Sánchez predicted, the competition weighed on his business, decreasing demand and consequently power usage.
It might seem odd and incriminating, but Sánchez's bid to keep competition at bay was standard business practice. Mills controlled competition by restraining others' access to electric power. Although neither Gómez nor Paliza, who brought the case to court, commented on Mexlight's supposed broken promise, such an agreement likely occurred. The last years of the Porfiriato and the early phase of the revolution saw a dramatic increase in molinos, an increase both facilitated and hindered by corruption.91 Bribes helped obtain specialized licenses required to establish molinos near successful ones, but, like Sánchez's molino, many of these mills were small and vulnerable. Yet connections to high-level government officials and electric company agents could help keep vital electrical supplies out of competitors' hands; over time, access to electricity was one of the ways by which two or three companies came to control the molino industry.92 It is conceivable that, seeing the writing on the wall after his arrangement with Mexlight failed, Sánchez resorted to theft to keep his business afloat.
Corruption and backroom dealing were part of everyday business for molinos, something that Inspector Gómez would experience firsthand. Gómez claimed that after talking to Sánchez about the missing fuse, Francisco García, a Spanish citizen and owner of the El León de Oro grocery store, stopped by the mill and invited Gómez and two other Mexlight employees to a nearby cantina. Over drinks, García asked Gómez to dismiss Sánchez's case, handing him ten pesos with the promise that Sánchez would provide an additional five pesos. Gómez accepted the money but claimed to have notified Mexlight about this. García's friends denied Gómez's accusation, but the bribery had likely occurred. For businesspeople who resorted to power theft and bribery to remain afloat, electric company employees occupied a privileged position, and clearly, given the ease with which García offered his bribe, not every inspector put Mexlight's interests first.
Sánchez's case also demonstrates the importance of peritos eléctricos. In cases of electricity theft, peritos not only technically assessed an electrical installation and located evidence of tampering but also, perhaps most importantly, provided a monetary assessment of the fraud committed. Seven months into the case, court personnel gathered at the San Antonio mill for a reconstruction of the alleged crime. Given that neither Sánchez nor Aviera could provide the name or whereabouts of the carter who had supposedly bumped into the meter, the judge ordered the reconstruction to determine the force necessary to dislodge the fuse and whether the meter was correctly protected.93 The judge also asked each side in the case to produce peritos to determine whether the fuse could have accidentally fallen out of the meter. Peritos called by the Secretaría de Justicia (Department of Justice) initially concluded that the fuse in question could not have fallen accidentally based on the type of fuse, the locks that secured the fuse, and its height from the ground (almost ten feet). Indeed, one needed to “strongly pull it to detach it.”94 Thus, Mexlight did not need to provide additional protection. However, after witnessing a reenactment of the maize sacks' unloading in which someone managed to detach the fuse, the peritos for the state recanted, determining that neither side was responsible for what had happened. Peritos for the defense disagreed, arguing that Mexlight should have been protecting fuses against accidental disconnections. Expert objectivity would not provide the solution hoped for by the court.
Sánchez was acquitted, the judge finding that the missing fuse resulted from “a fact solely accidental . . . and not fraudulent machinations to defraud Mexlight.”95 Mexlight was not happy with this ruling; after failing to have the decision reversed on appeal, the company filed a civil action against Sánchez demanding 1,089 pesos in damages. When Mexlight learned that Sánchez was selling his mill, his only known property, a company representative asked the court to place a lien on the mill to cover the amount for which Mexlight was suing. If Mexlight could not have the satisfaction of a guilty verdict, the company would still get its money; either result would serve as a warning to those who would deviate from the company's script for electricity consumption. No record exists of how this case was resolved, but the resolution was largely beside the point; what mattered most was demonstrating the lengths that Mexlight would go to.
Midsize businesses trapped in cutthroat competition felt directly the advantages and disadvantages of electrifying their shops. Access to electricity, particularly after Mexlight established a monopoly, could give a business the upper hand in a restricted market if it could work with electric companies to deny power service to competitors. However, these competitors sought the same advantage. It was a ruthless environment in which proprietors had to be creative—and even a touch devious—to survive.
Acting Sin Dolo
Inspector Paliza kept up his frantic pace into 1907, filling his days by hunting down suspicious activity among the city's many smaller shops and businesses. That year he accused 22-year-old Jesús Paredes, owner of the La Suerte diner on Plazuela de la Palma, of theft.96 The diner's official connection had been interrupted a few months earlier for nonpayment, when under different management, and the connection had not been reestablished since. But when Paliza arrived on the day that he accused Paredes, he could clearly see that the building had electric lights. When asked about this, Paredes claimed that he had only opened the diner a week before. On its first day of business, he explained, he was busy fixing an oil lamp when a stranger approached him and suggested electric lighting for the establishment, offering to make an immediate connection. The stranger also promised, for a five-peso fee, to take care of the contract with the electric company. The trusting Paredes negotiated the price of the reconnection down to two pesos plus a free meal. That was the last time that Paredes saw the other man.
Paredes's lights unequivocally consumed stolen electricity, but did he mean to steal? As part of the reforms to the 1871 penal code, lawmakers had added to article 416 a provision demanding evidence of criminal intent for cases of power theft. Only after intent had been established could legal proceedings move on to considering the physical execution of the crime; consequently, ascertaining the intention behind fraudulent installations became an essential component of any such case. Paredes was fortunate; because he had accepted an offer from an anonymous electrician and did not carry out the installation himself, he was judged by the law's standard to have acted “sin dolo” (without criminal intent); the company thus did not file charges.97 Not everyone was so lucky. In many instances defendants admitted to making illegal connections but tried to raise doubts about their intent, only to find the electric company unsympathetic. Librada Lara admitted to using electricity for an application not stipulated in her contract, but she claimed that she had done so only once and only for a few hours due to “urgent need.”98 In at least one case, a defendant tried to equate ignorance with a lack of criminal intent. Concepción Delgado had asked Nicolás Sánchez to run a connection from his commercial establishment to the room that she occupied so that she could use three lights for a get-together with friends. Although Delgado admitted that in the end she did use electricity to entertain her guests, she claimed that she had used it only for a single light and that there was “no criminal intent” because she did not know that this constituted a crime.99
Unlike Mexlight, the courts could be more forgiving and consider unfamiliarity with the law and personal circumstances in their ruling. Judge Adalberto Gómez sentenced Vicenta Castañeda, who powered a lamp in her small shop without a contract, to pay Mexlight 15 pesos in damages. In his verdict, in addition to citing as extenuating circumstances Castañeda's lack of a criminal history and the fact that she did not know beforehand that her action was a crime, the judge proclaimed that “the humble class still lacks a clear concept of the crime [of electricity theft], which has provoked digressions and grave controversies among jurists.”100 Such a justification for mercy, however, is misleading, for as we have seen ladrones de luz were predominantly middle class.
Those who pleaded lack of intent most often, like Paredes, narrated scenarios in which anonymous individuals introduced themselves as either independent electricians or employees of electric companies and offered connections for cash. Having been duped themselves, the accused believed they were on the right side of the law since they had not intended to break any law. Sometimes, the accused were reliable electricity customers—just to the wrong parties. Cristóbal Rubio claimed that he paid Federico Brown, a German electrician who had set up his connection, directly every month for service.101
Crooked electricians like Brown proliferated, most commonly taking cash but also frequently bartering for their services. Manuel Herrera, owner of the drugstore La Salud in Tlalpan, had been a Mexlight client for over seven years when inspector Gabriel Abrego arrived in March 1913 unannounced and found a brincador.102 Herrera admitted that three years earlier he had been called to the house of Enrique Gavito to attend to his sick wife. Without money to cover the expense, Gavito instead offered to reduce Herrera's electric bill simply by loosening some screws. Herrera claimed that he had refused the offer because he would never allow such a crime and that he never saw Gavito again. It is not clear whether Gavito tampered with the meter or Herrera did so himself. In the end, Herrera got off on a technicality, for peritos testified that the brincador had been improperly installed and thus that there had been no fraud.
In their efforts to curb and prosecute fraudulent connections, electric companies and the courts ran up against the realities of a city in flux. Not only was Mexico City physically expanding, bringing in waves of new faces with it, but also faster transportation facilitated journeys into and across the city. With cheap mass transit, residents of adjacent villages could come in and leave daily, and people could visit and work in different neighborhoods and be back by dinner. Migration to the capital was increasing, turnover was frequent in cheap rentals, and informal employment was common. In this environment, it was not difficult for anonymous individuals not only to offer services of dubious legality but to pose as electrical company employees offering fixes or special installations. We can get a better sense of those duping capitalinos into electricity theft by looking at the case of Ignacio Vera and a few of his friends. They made money doing this until they were caught in August 1905, when Juan Esparza, employee of the Compañía de Gas y Luz Eléctrica, was investigating power interruptions at a tailor's shop in San Lorenzo. In the course of this investigation he identified a clandestine connection, not carried out by the electric company, to a residential house; following the line, he arrived at Efrén Vilchis's room, where a party was in full swing under the warm glow of 25 electric lights.103 Immediately, Esparza notified the police, but when they arrived at Vilchis's room, they found the installation destroyed. The police still arrested Vilchis for the illegal connection; later, they also arrested Ignacio Vera, one of the party guests, whom they alleged had carried out and then destroyed the installation.
At the police station, Vilchis confessed that, having insufficient light for his party, he had accepted an offer from Vera and his friend to install only ten electric lights. Vera, in turn, pleaded innocence, claiming that he had merely helped his friend—identified in court documents only by his first name, Jesús—who had facilitated the deal and made the installation. Upon further questioning, Vilchis expanded on his original statement in a way that both helped and hurt Vera's case. Vilchis now explained that the ringleader, who offered the connection and determined its price, was not Vera but someone whom Vilchis knew only by the nickname El Chato. However, Vilchis also explained that this ringleader and Vera both claimed to be employees of the electric company. As far as electric thefts go, it was a small crime—peritos set the defrauded amount at 3 pesos and 30 cents, and the company lawyers demanded 22 pesos and 7 cents in damages—but while Vilchis paid his fine and served no time, the courts convicted Vera of carrying out the installation and sentenced him to over 14 months in jail and a fine of 6 pesos and 25 cents.
For some of those who claimed to have stolen electricity sin dolo after 1906, the lack of intent was clear, but many others had a harder time making this defense. Some were duped, and others appear to have embraced willful ignorance. Some tried to be savvy, while others were driven by fear. But whatever their immediate motivation, those who acted sin dolo shared one important quality with those who acted con dolo: they both desperately wanted to enjoy the tangible benefits of electricity.
The desire to pay less—or nothing—for electric power was at the root of its theft, but curiously, those brought to court for this crime rarely admitted this motivation or questioned electricity rates. Salvador Ruelas acknowledged placing diablitos in his meter to “save four pesos,” and Esteban Castillo, co-owner of a mill, complained about Mexlight's exorbitant rates, but they were exceptions.104 Even critical comments in the press were few and far between and often oblique. For instance, in an article covering a case of electric theft, El País conceded that Mexlight was within its rights to safeguard its interests via inspectors but showed some sympathy with its customers—not because they paid too much, but because the company's service was so poor.105
Mexico City experienced tremendous transformations between 1910 and 1920. Not only did the capital's population grow substantially during this period, but it became home to a burgeoning working class whose unity and energy galvanized riots and mobilizations.106 Capitalinos also faced dire economic challenges directly and indirectly fed by the Mexican Revolution. Assaulted and occupied by opposing armies, for instance, the city suffered the “year of hunger” in 1915. Historian Ariel Rodríguez Kuri reminds us that besides toppling the political order and causing material destruction, “the revolution has a place in the imaginary . . . insofar as it fosters new behaviors, new expectations, and new demands.”107 Changes in perception of what seemed just and unjust in everyday life were not restricted to mobilized workers. City council member Serapio Rendón, for instance, harshly condemned Mexlight for the grievances endured by electric power subscribers under its monopoly. The company, he noted, “obliged subscribers to make deposits without guarantee for their money . . . and [continued to] install electric meters without the public having certainty that [these] are correctly calibrated.” To level the playing field, Rendón proposed eliminating deposits and for the city council to organize its own corps of inspectors to surveil Mexlight's measurements and service charges. Although Agustín Galván, who headed the city council's public lighting commission, welcomed such a corps, he rejected eliminating deposits on the grounds that the city council had no right to intervene in transactions between private parties.108 From the judicial cases that I consulted, it does not seem that any such corps ever materialized. Despite this, we can identify a shift around this time in everyday relations between electricity users, Mexlight, and government officials. Capitalinos' demands for state intervention on their behalf against a foreign company, increasingly seen as predatory, began to find adherents.
Thus when capitalinos opened their copies of El Demócrata on October 27, 1924, they might have nodded approvingly as they read the paper's harsh commentary on Mexlight; for over two decades, criticism of electrical companies, their rates, and their service had been simmering. That year alone, the paper estimated, as many as 80 to 90 percent of energy subscribers used diablitos, but for this the paper blamed not the capitalinos' morality or ethics but rather Mexlight's “prohibitive rates.” The newspaper claimed to have received countless letters demanding that the Secretaría de Industria y Comercio (Department of Industry and Commerce) and the Secretaría de Agricultura y Fomento (Department of Agriculture and Development) step in to reduce rates, a demand with which the paper agreed, denouncing the monopoly for charging too much for service. For comparison, the paper relayed the experience of a “distinguished individual” who had traveled to St. Louis, Missouri. This individual was shocked to find that the electric company there charged rates considerably less than those found in Mexican cities. Nothing, the paper believed, could explain this. After all, the paper reminded its readers, the Mexican government had given the hydrodynamic power of the “magnificent” Necaxa falls to Mexlight for a price so low that it amounted to a giveaway. What did Mexicans get in return, the “distinguished individual” asked? Exorbitant rates.109 There was, in the paper's analysis, something fair about cheating a company that abused its subscribers.
Mexlight charged 30 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in the capital in 1905, with discounts for public entities and large energy customers. Between 1910 and 1930, the city council paid a discounted rate of 25.5 cents per kWh for public lighting and only 3.5 cents per kWh for pumping water. But it was not the discounts enjoyed by the city council that caused concern; it was those discounts given to large, private enterprises buying horsepower to run engines and electrical machinery, which could be so great that they hindered the development of small shops. In 1907, the cost for horsepower ranged from 100 pesos for large consumers to 477 pesos for small ones.110 In 1917 a national commission concluded that power monopolies would have “severer consequences . . . than the unrestrained exploitation of minerals during the colonial period or the oil fields' growing exploitation.”111
According to the law, ladrones de luz were criminals. This class of criminals included not only the motley crowd of individuals who sold or bartered the technical skills required to make fraudulent connections but also the innovative individuals who manufactured energy-saving mechanisms designed to bypass the electric meters' vigilance. Courts sought to squash them and protect the interests of large electric companies, but capitalinos, criminal or not, were not going to be passive participants in the city's electrification. Their thefts were their demand to be included in the wonder of modern, electrified Mexico City and a form of protest, questioning who had the right to determine who enjoyed the comforts of modern life.
For electric companies, theft was not just lost revenue. The tenacity and resolution of their inspectors and their lawyers' demand for convictions, even after fines had been paid, speak to injury that went beyond finances; if cultural norms had to be violated in order to secure the redress of those injuries, then the companies were prepared to do so. By beginning to penetrate private spaces previously off-limits, public utilities sought to ensure that their script for consumption was the only one that people could follow. Mexicans, companies like Mexlight effectively declared, would get electricity under company rules or not at all. Yet court documents and the testimonies of the accused show that capitalinos often refused, went off script, and asserted their own prerogatives.
Theft trials offer a fruitful avenue to document the nuances of Mexico City's electrification. As defendants justified and explained their actions, nearly every layer of society participated in the debate about power theft. To one degree or another, ladrones de luz knew the script that the electric companies sought to propagate but refused to follow it. The companies' efforts to regulate electricity were thus “constantly deflected and resisted by those . . . caught in [their] ‘nets.’”112 The responses of ladrones de luz were at once “dispersed, tactical, and makeshift creativity,” an “antidiscipline” that, just like a brincador, bypassed the electric companies' control.113
This article has benefited from the numerous readers who have generously read and helped improve its different iterations. Special thanks to the attentive eye of HAHR managing editor Sean Mannion and the two anonymous readers for their thoughtful attention in the midst of the pandemic. The insightful comments of Elisa Speckman Guerra, Andrea Friedman, William H. Beezley, Mikael Hård, and my colleagues Justin Castro, Luis Coronado, Anabel Galindo, Marco Macias, Bahia Munem, David Pretel, Fabian Prieto-Ñañez, José Ragas, Christina Ramos, Sonia Robles, and Miguel Valerio have enriched and energized the article and the author. I would also like to thank Mario Barbosa Cruz, Clara E. Lida, Diego Pulido, and María Dolores Lorenzo Río for their suggestions as well as the participants in the Seminario Permanente de Historia Social of El Colegio de México's Centro de Estudios Históricos for workshopping an earlier draft. Finally, a fellowship at the Center for the Humanities and support from my chair, Peter Kastor, of the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis allowed me to polish the analysis.
El Imparcial (Mexico City), 19 Dec. 1901, p. 2.
Diario de Jurisprudencia del Distrito y Territorios Federales (Mexico City), 20 Jan. 1904, p. 8 (hereafter this newspaper will be cited as DJDTF); DJDTF, 21 Jan. 1904, pp. 1–5.
Lipsett-Rivera, Gender, 4.
Piccato, City of Suspects, 3.
Arnold, Everyday Technology, 5.
Misa, “Compelling Tangle,” 2–3, 9.
Calls for new narratives include Portuondo, “Constructing a Narrative”; Medina, Marques, and Holmes, Beyond Imported Magic.
Matthews, Civilizing Machine; Castro, Radio in Revolution; Beatty, Technology. Beatty underlines that recent economic history does not “treat technology in any explicit manner, despite its centrality to any explanation of economic growth and development.” Beatty, 20.
Tenorio-Trillo, I Speak of the City, 307. See also Alexander, City on Fire; Vitz, City on a Lake; Agostoni, Monuments of Progress.
User-centered studies reinstitute Karl Marx's claim that consumption is production, with “the process of production . . . not complete until users have defined the uses, meanings, and significance of the technology.” Oudshoorn and Pinch, “Introduction,” 16. See also Silverstone and Hirsch, Consuming Technologies; Lie and Sørensen, Making Technology.
The use of technological innovations is intrinsically entangled with not only economic activities of nation and state building but also “transformations in identity and everyday life.” Tinajero and Freeman, “Introduction,” 1–2.
This article adapts Madeleine Akrich's concept of the script. Akrich noted that innovators “inscribed” into the technologies that they developed—in the form of a “script”— assumptions (beliefs, values, norms, and attitudes) about the technologies' future users. Akrich, “De-scription of Technical Objects.” Nelly Oudshoorn argues that “in principle the possibility exists that a user [will] interpret differently, modify, diverge from, or totally reject” imposed scripts. Nelly Oudshoorn, quoted in Rose and Blume, “Citizens as Users,” 108. I am interested in the script that electrical power companies prescribed and that imagined users behaving within the power contract's parameters.
For scholarship on elite visions of criminality in Mexico, for instance, see Buffington, Criminal; Piccato, City of Suspects; Speckman Guerra, Crimen y castigo; Pulido Esteva, ¡A su salud!
See Lear, Workers; Porter, “‘And That It Is Custom’”; Piccato, “Urbanistas.”
For two exceptions of studies on technology and crime in the region, see Galeano, Criminosos viajantes; Rodriguez, “South Atlantic Crossings.”
Levine, “Michel de Certeau,” 317.
Weiner, Race, 59.
El Imparcial (Mexico City), 27 Dec. 1907, p. 1.
For 20 years, no other company could enter Mexlight's area of coverage unless they could guarantee lower rates. Galarza, La industria eléctrica, 121.
On the city's industrialization, see Garza, El proceso, 117–22.
Mexican Light and Power Company Ltd., (1909), 2–3. Rising power demand continued during the Mexican Revolution. Mexlight noted a “very marked” demand growth from 1914 to 1921 (no reports were issued during these years) and called for increasing installed capacity. Mexican Light and Power Company Ltd., (1921), 7–8.
El Imparcial (Mexico City), 4 Nov. 1906, p. 2.
For the increased frequency and intensity of fires, see Alexander, City on Fire, 6–11.
The owner had used bell wire, generally employed for low-current, low-voltage applications, to tap into a power line servicing a nearby drugstore. The overloaded wire ignited the salon's roof, partially burning it. El Imparcial (Mexico City), 19 Dec. 1901.
Nueva Era (Mexico City), 6 June 1912.
El Diario (Mexico City), 24 Aug. 1913, p. 7.
DJDTF, 13 Aug. 1907, pp. 713–16.
In 1912, Mexlight strengthened its legal position by adding a 12th clause to its customer contract stipulating “unconditional consent and authorization for company employees to have access to the house or places where the subscriber uses electric energy.” Antonio Vázquez Suárez, 28 June 1912, Archivo General de la Nación, Mexico City, Tribunal Superior de Justicia del Distrito Federal (hereafter cited as AGN, TSJDF), box 1143, file 203598.
Reyes Granados, 1 Mar. 1906, AGN, TSJDF, box 0565, file 102030.
Vicenta Castañeda, 29 Mar. 1916, AGN, TSJDF, box 1370, file 242373.
Vázquez Suárez, 28 June 1912, AGN, TSJDF, box 1143, file 203598.
Guillermo Elorreaga, 25 Jan. 1918, AGN, TSJDF, box 1507, file 269073; Sra. Viuda de R. Pokorney, 19 Apr. 1909, AGN, TSJDF, box 910, file 159339.
El Imparcial (Mexico City), 27 Apr. 1906, p. 6.
Vázquez Suárez, 28 June 1912, AGN, TSJDF, box 1143, file 203598.
El Tiempo (Mexico City), 4 July 1912, p. 4.
Vázquez Suárez, 28 June 1912, AGN, TSJDF, box 1143, file 203598.
Lipsett-Rivera, Gender, 38.
Isidoro Díaz, 15 Aug. 1906, AGN, TSJDF, box 0495, file 087332.
Lipsett-Rivera, Gender, 25.
Federico Jah, 17 July 1912, AGN, TSJDF, box 1118, file 198038.
In a similar case, inspectors saw how candles were lit up after an electric light was turned off. Minutes later, a maid denied them entrance, alleging that her boss was sick. Enriqueta Ruiz, 15 Sept. 1915, AGN, TSJDF, box 297, file 226252.
Lipsett-Rivera, Gender, 14.
By contrast, working-class women, particularly marketwomen, redefined female morality “as inclusive of publicness.” Porter, “‘And That It Is Custom,’” 141.
Angel Montaño, 18 Feb. 1918, AGN, TSJDF, box 1507, file 269076.
Lipsett-Rivera, Gender, 49–58.
See Kuznesof, “Gender Ideology,” 161.
El Imparcial (Mexico City), 27 Dec. 1907.
Owners studied installation costs; installing electrical wiring themselves only constituted an illegal act when tapping into a power line.
In the absence of clientele data, power demand provides a sense of the market. In 1908 Mexlight fed 3,310 arc lamps and 305,400 incandescent lamps; by 1913 the company powered only 2,539 arc lamps but 589,731 incandescent lamps, almost double the number from 1908. Gross earnings more than doubled between 1906 and 1913 (from 3,854,194.63 pesos to 8,484,338.17 pesos). Mexican Light and Power Company Ltd., (1913), 7.
Sodi, Nuestra ley penal, 8.
Macedo, La criminalidad, 28.
El Imparcial (Mexico City), 27 Dec. 1907, p. 1.
El Diario (Mexico City), 15 Dec. 1911, p. 3.
El Demócrata (Mexico City), 27 Oct. 1924, p. 1.
Electrification also allowed for industrial life in the city center; earlier, industry was restricted to scattered hamlets around the Federal District. Morgan, “Proletarians,” 152–54.
Lear, Workers, 62–66.
Garza, El proceso, 120. John Lear found six textile factories in the Federal District in 1877, altogether employing 900 men, 300 women, and 220 children. The workforce doubled by 1910, with production increasing fivefold. Lear, Workers, 59. See also Becerril Montero, Las fábricas.
El Imparcial (Mexico City), 26 Apr. 1903, p. 3.
El Tiempo (Mexico City), 26 Apr. 1903, p. 3.
El Diario (Mexico City), 24 Aug. 1913, p. 7.
Lear, Workers, 56. The number of vendors in Mexico City grew from 19,000 in 1895 to 30,000 by 1910.
The intersection of innovation and illegality has been absent from the historiography of technology in the region. For an exception on narco-trafficking in late twentieth-century Colombia, see Guerrero C., Narcosubmarines.
Nueva Era (Mexico City), 21 Nov. 1911.
Código penal, article 368.
Jacinto Pallares, quoted in Sodi, Nuestra ley penal, 27–28.
DJDTF, 21 Jan. 1904, p. 2.
Jacinto Pallares, quoted in Sodi, Nuestra ley penal, 28.
DJDTF, 25 Jan. 1904, pp. 6–8; DJDTF, 26 Jan. 1904, pp. 1–4.
DJDTF, 11 Aug. 1904, pp. 675–76.
DJDTF, 8 Aug. 1904, p. 656.
For debate on reforms, see DJDTF, 20 July 1904; DJDTF, 1–10 Aug. 1904.
DJDTF, 17 Sept. 1904, p. 112.
DJDTF, 1 Sept. 1904, p. 7.
Granados, 1 Mar. 1906, AGN, TSJDF, box 0565, file 102030.
Boletín de la Secretaría de Fomento (Mexico City), Oct. 1907. The tannery was working below capacity, with daily about 50 cowhides and 30 dozen sheep-, goat-, and calfskins.
Haber, Industry and Underdevelopment, 79–80.
Industria é Invenciones (Barcelona), 8 Oct. 1898, p. 140.
Herrero B., Los empresarios mexicanos, 145.
Leather Manufacturer (Boston), Mar. 1898, p. 46.
Granados, 1 Mar. 1906, AGN, TSJDF, box 0565, file 102030.
Granados, 1 Mar. 1906, AGN, TSJDF, box 0565, file 102030.
Granados, 1 Mar. 1906, AGN, TSJDF, box 0565, file 102030.
Granados likely contracted it at Belem, where tuberculosis was epidemic. He had been released on a 500-peso bond during his trial.
Tenorio-Trillo, I Speak of the City, 402–3. French residents had a large social footprint among the city's elite. For studies of foreigners in Mexico City, see Buchenau, Tools of Progress; Schell, Integral Outsiders.
For Mexico's reliance on imported human capital, see Beatty, Technology, 185–202.
Tomás Sánchez, 22 Mar. 1908, AGN, TSJDF, box 0746, file 131627.
Roberto del Villar, 23 Apr. 1906, AGN, TSJDF, box 0491, file 087193.
There were 72 mills in 1913 in the Federal District. In 1915 there were 130, a pronounced increase that came with the market's concentration by Compañía Mexicana Molinera de Nixtamal, a Spanish-owned company with 100 mills in the Federal District. Lear, Workers, 65. These trends of growth and concentration continued as military hostilities came to an end. By 1923, the Compañía Mexicana Molinera de Nixtamal owned 119 out of 147 mills in the Federal District. Keremitsis, “Del metate,” 292–93.
See Keremitsis, “Del metate,” 286.
El País (Mexico City), 4 Nov. 1908.
Sánchez, 22 Mar. 1908, AGN, TSJDF, box 0746, file 131627.
Sánchez, 22 Mar. 1908, AGN, TSJDF, box 0746, file 131627.
Jesús Paredes, 19 Aug. 1907, AGN, TSJDF, box 643, file 113625.
Paredes, 19 Aug. 1907, AGN, TSJDF, box 643, file 113625.
Nueva Era (Mexico City), 30 Mar. 1912.
Concepción Delgado and Nicolás Sánchez, 24 Mar. 1917, AGN, TSJDF, box 1401, file 247414.
Castañeda, 29 Mar. 1916, AGN, TSJDF, box 1370, file 242373. Judges were not as a rule more lenient toward women; rather, “some judges . . . punish[ed] female criminals as an example to other women.” Speckman Guerra, “Disorder and Control,” 384.
El País (Mexico City), 4 July 1903.
Manuel Herrera, 6 Mar. 1913, AGN, TSJDF, box 1185, file 207147.
DJDTF, 24 Aug. 1905, pp. 785–88. (All subsequent discussion of this case is drawn from this source.)
See, respectively, El País (Mexico City), 13 Aug. 1912; Villar, 23 Apr. 1906, AGN, TSJDF, box 0491, file 087193.
El País (Mexico City), 16 Oct. 1906.
For working-class mobilization, see Lear, Workers, 138–42.
Rodríguez Kuri, Historia del desasosiego, 15.
Rodríguez Kuri, La experiencia olvidada, 214–15. La Iberia, a Mexico City daily, published complaints and, to no avail, asked authorities to make meters subject to the existing laws for weights and measures.
El Demócrata (Mexico City), 27 Oct. 1924. Until 1933, the state had neither the legal precepts nor the technical, financial, and administrative capacity to regulate the electric industry. Wionczek, “State,” 534–35.
Galarza, La industria eléctrica, 193.
Enriquez, Cuatro conferencias, 17–18.
Levine, “Michel de Certeau,” 317.
Beryl Langer, quoted in Levine, 317.