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Last update 2021.06.21

MAXAM Foundation - Alfred Nobel - The world in 1870

Brooklyn Bridge (New York), opened in 1883.

MAXAM’s birth in 1872 takes place in a key moment in history, when Nobel’s dynamic invention has the possibility of developing in a period of relative stability, amongst people with the overwhelming will to advance into the future…



Fue un momento en que el planeta comenzaba a convertirse en el mundo que conocemos hoy en día.

It was a moment when the planet was beginning to settle down and become somewhat more like the world we know today..

From many different kingdoms, duchies, principalities and republics, the world had more or less settled into fewer, but larger, units; a multitude of smaller states were consolidated into the United Kingdom of Italy and the German Empire. After almost 100 years of fluctuating, short-lived systems of government, France was restoring the republican system, which ultimately lives on even today.

All of the European nations were extending ties to colonies throughout Africa and Asia, leading to empires upon which the sun never set, and busy trade routes hich allowed for greater interactions between all people. Even far-off Australia became a more accessible part of the world with the inauguration of the Overland Telegraph Line (1872), which connected the island-continent within itself, and the cities of the rest of the planet.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States had consolidated the ‘Manifest Destiny’ that asserted its domain over all that stretched “from California to New York Island”. Similarly, the South American republics were more or less established, as was a state of general coexistence within the Pacific. A complacent rigidity had set in, a status quo that would remain in effect until at least 1914.

And in this moment of peace, for the first time, the world was becoming truly –albeit rudimentarily– connected. In completion of three fundamental worksprojects: the connection of the First Transcontinental Railroad in America (1869), the linking of the railways across India (1870), and the opening of the Suez Canal (1869). 

Much as Jules Verne’s would posit at the beginning of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ –which would be published just a few short months after MAXAM’s creation–, “the world had grown smaller”, and this smaller world was enjoying a period of relative stability. Despite the smaller conflicts that seem to, inevitably, take place, the world of 1872 was –atleast superficially– inhabited by graceful ladies in long vening dresses, and gentlemen with great mustaches and the occasional monocle. 

A period of great promise

The relative stability provided the opportunity for enormous industrial, urban and economic growth. This was the gilded era of railroads and telegraphs, and of great migrations from rural to urban areas, and the subsequent rebuilding of cities through ambitious civic planning projects (be they the conclusion of the great Haussmann boulevards of Paris, or the reformation of Philadelphia in preparation for the United States’ Centennial Celebrations in 1876).

Millions flocked to the cities searching for a better life, and oftentimes found themselves relegated to slums and poor working conditions. Traditional artisans faced unemployment when pitted against the industrial processes that produced goods faster, and at lower prices. And yet, for all the negative sides to the story, the period beginning in the 1870’s, and extending through the following two decades, would see the greatest increase in economic growth in such a short period as ever in previous history.

The factory system would lead to the specialization of the works, and the division of skilled and unskilled labor; the social impact of this process would eventually provide the basis for a growing middle class and the greater  spread of capitalism. The far-ranging impact of the period is not only limited to the underlying socioeconomic currents of our time, but also the very material substance of our modern being; many of the products that continue to be fundamental to our lives were invented during this period –amongst them, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone (1876), and Thomas Edison’s light bulb (1876) and phonograph (1877)–.

In less material ways, the world was also coming together. In the realm of art, the Impressionist movement, which came to be in France, quickly spread across the whole world. The Paris-based group led by such renowned figures as Claude Monet, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and others, developed a movement based on the depiction of light in its changing ualities, and the study of common, ordinary subject matter. It was the celebration of human experience through the routine, and perhaps because of this so much of the great artworks of the period are studies of the common, industrial elements of the city (as evidenced by Monet’s view of the Gare Saint-Lazare, and Manet’s own painting of the same name). The quiet quality of the art seemed to match the quiet quality of the time.

1. Alexander Graham Bell at the inauguration of the long-distance telephone line (1876).
2. Railroad bridge,British Columbia, Canada.
3. A couple from the period sporting the fashions that were en vogue at the time.

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