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  • Los Angeles, 1900
  • Greg Hise (bio) and William Deverell (bio)

Behind us along the Atlantic seaboard lies the great workshop of the nation. In the intermountain country and on the Pacific lie the natural resources of the continent. Before us across the Pacific lies the greatest market in the world—India, China, Siberia.

—Henry M. Robinson, "World Trade" (7)

Many principalities which have played quite an important part in the political history of Europe cannot boast half the resources that lie dormant, or only partially developed, within the confines of Los Angeles County.

—Atchison and Eshelman, Los Angeles Then and Now (164)

In a December 1890 address, Isidor Jacobs, a manager with California Canneries, Ltd., reminded an association of fruit growers gathered in San Francisco for their twenty-fifth annual convention that they were an advance guard leading the state into the new century. "This is the age of Commercialism—the era of Trade," he told his peers. "Politics, policies, government, administration all seem to tend in one direction—towards commercialism and commerce. It has been aptly said that trade follows the flag—it can be better said that the flag follows trade" ("Future Trade Possibilities").

A century later, we can only surmise why Jacobs would evoke flags and imply nationalism and the national state when speaking to a group of agriculturalists. Ideology, including manifest destiny, and prior events, such as the American conquest of Alta California a mere half century before, certainly informed the mindset of the speaker and his audience. So, no doubt, did contemporary [End Page 49] claims and projections of California's destiny as the presumptive capital for a Pacific century, a time when the world's centre of gravity would (not might) shift from an Atlantic world—organized and overseen by monarchs, investors, elected officials, merchants, and institutions based in the administrative and financial capitals of Europe and cities along the east coast of North America— to a Pacific world (talked about then and now as the Pacific Rim), with its American capital in one of the commercial centres along the Pacific Slope.

Boosters who had bet Los Angeles would assume that role produced promotional graphics depicting the city as the hub of an empire of trade and commerce, with a tributary catchment area sending material, goods, and capital flowing as if by gravity to Los Angeles. In an 1875 message to the Los Angeles Common Council, Mayor Prudent Beaudry projected a future "laden with prosperity far beyond any we have yet enjoyed. The attention of the whole country is centered on this coast among the cities of which we occupy an enviable position" ("The Mayor's Message" 254). In 1892, the Los Angeles Times claimed the city was the de facto capital of an "embryo empire" forty thousand square miles in extent, stretching from Point Concepcion to Mexico ("The Land We Live In" 5). A 1912 report to the city's Harbor Commissioners made a comparable claim: "The territory which feeds and is contributory to the commerce of a port is called its hinterland. That city will grow fastest which is so located that the cheap method of transmission will proceed nearest the economic center of consumption and production of its hinterland" (Goodrich 9).

Chamber of Commerce publications would expand upon these themes. In the article "Welding Together the New Empire," Southern California Business reported that agriculturalists were creating a "vast trade field opening up throughout the Southwest. No city in the world has a broader territory to draw upon - no city has a field so rich with possibilities" (17). Boosters routinely extolled Los Angeles as the centre of an agricultural empire (Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce), and firms promoted similar claims. When Proctor & Gamble chose Long Beach for the site of its West Coast factory, "the farthest-west link in a chain of manufacturing units that now stretches from ocean to ocean," it borrowed a headline from the New York Herald Tribune to proclaim, "Southern California is a New Empire." In 1931, the Los Angeles Evening Express Yearbook referred to Proctor and Gamble's building "an ivory embassy" in California ("Now Building" 33).

Integration into markets both national and international had been...


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