Federico Santa María: philanthropist, visionary and entrepreneur
In the mid-19th century, Valparaiso is no doubt the main port of the country. At the harbor, dozens of arriving and ready to depart ships can be seen from and to the main ports of the world. The hectic life of the harbor, located where.
Plaza Sotomayor is today, shows its future as an important market and outlines as a properous and cosmopolitan city. Also, the growing commerce encourages the arrival of capitals together with immigrants from different parts, captivated by the business opportunities. People can observe how the city progresively grows with new buildings and more refined architectural designs, thanks to the cultural influences brought by many migrants who put into port.
Federico Santa María was born on August 15th, 1845, on El Cabo street known today as Esmeralda Street, where Valparaíso elite lives. His birth, as it used to be at that time, takes place at his parents` home. He becomes the sixth child among 9 siblings whose father is Juan Antonio Santa María, a prosperous and corageous businessman, of a noble family descent from peninsular origin and a strong colonial landowner influence. His distinguished mother, Madgalena Carrera Aguirre, belongs to one of the most outstanding colonial and patriotic clans during the period of emancipation of our nation.
Juan Antonio Carrera Salinas, his grandfather from his father`s side, was José Miguel Carrera Verdugo`s cousin, a national hero. From him Federico Santa María would inherit his ideals, present all his life, his work and legacy which are clearly expressed in his will and testament at the end of his life.
His early childhood is marked by the canons of belonging to an elite family of Valparaíso society at that time. When he is around seven or eight years old, he enters Instituto Shöeller, receiving a demanding and disciplined education framed on man`s universal principles. This vision is also shared by his parents. Values such as respect, rigor, the search for truth are instilled this way, being the fundamental pillars of the social life then. His grandfather from his father`s side and his great-aunt Mrs. Javiera Carrera Verdugo, also contributed to forge his liberal thoughts and his love for freedom of speech and the nation.
On December 15th in 1850, a fierce fire destroys Santa María`s house completely. This disaster devastates many buildings in El Cabo Street and the people from Valparaiso community organizes. On June 30th in 1851, they set up the first fire station in the country called Cuerpo de Bomberos de Valparaíso. It was afforded by the retailers themselves and Juan Antonio Santa María was undoubtlessly one of them.
In 1859, when he is 14 years old, he starts working in a shipping company, however, soon after his father`s death, his energy and family imprint encourage him to have an independant life. In 1871, he buys a modest motorboat to provide services to load and unload goods from the ships that put into port. His mother is his fundamental pillar for him and unconditional support who, after becoming a widow, got married again. This is written in the collection of anecdotes about his life, where she tells that she has pawned a ring to get money to support her son in his first entreprenurship.
Five years later, after the bombardment of Valparaíso by the Spanish Navy, he decides to take the chances and start a new business adventure in Tarapacá City that belonged to Perú at that time. This city was a development hub and the scenario of growing mining, commercial and shipping activities derived from the rich copper mines and saltpeter sites. In spite of his short staying, he could integrate himself and mix with prosperous businessmen he would meet again in some other times of his life.
In 1867, after some failing business, he is almost bankrupt and decides to return to his hometown but he is not willing to be depressed. Based on his determination, vision and contacts with the financial world he obtains the necessary loans to get into the big business, that are finally becoming true, buying stocks from several companies. Two years later, he joined his brother-in-law Jorge Ross Edwards to buy a farm called Quebrada Verde, establishing Valparaíso Water Customers Company (Compañía de Consumidores de Agua de Valparaíso) and the same year, together with other partners he establishes Valparaíso Dock Company (Compañía de Diques de Valparaíso). Only one year later, he gets involved with other stockholders and sets up the National Tugboats Company (Compañía Nacional de Remolcadores).
In this period, he gets a loan and invests in the railway company and buys the first shares of the National Steamboat Company (Compañía Nacional de Vapores) known today as Compañía Sudamericana de Vapores (Southamerican Steamboat Company) established in 1872. At the same time, he becomes the owner of several properties in the prosperous city of Valparaíso.
Consistent with his deeply patriotic spirit, he does not hesitate to leave his business aside and joins the Army to participate in the Pacific War in which Chile fights against Perú and Bolivia due to the conflicts of the saltpeter sites in the northern part of Chile. Thus, in 1879, at 34 years old, he enrolls the barracks located in Artilleria Hill. He is appointed commander of the Batallón Cívico No1 Valparaíso, as a leiutenant – colonel in charge of 800 men. However, a sickness does not let him participate in the combat and decides to travel to Europe. This does not prevent him from accounting for the commitment with his country inherited from his distinguished ancestors. His trip begins in 1880 and even though he travels because of healthy reasons, he does not miss the oportunity to submerge into the European business and financial environment, doing most of his activities in Paris, London and Brussels. However, after a series of unfortunate business and almost bankrupt, he decides to return to Chile at the end of 1884.
Once back in the country, he is willing to reemerge again and begins vigorously his business activities as he was used to. This time, he participates in the national politics more actively. It is in 1891, when the Civil War has begun, and, even though he does not take an active part in the conflict, he supports the liberal cause of the congressmen facing President José Manuel Balmacedas ́ party. He had a mishap when the winning party confused him with a Balmaceda fan. Santa María would have been executed if a city neighbor had not testified his position in the matter.
In this same period, he develops many commercial activities in several areas of the country. The shares of a mining railway company in the north of Chile and of gas companies in San Felipe and Concepción are evidence of these activities. As it was expected, his permanent restless spirit, audacity and effort to do business in conjunction with his experience along the years take him to do his most longed dream: to travel around the world.
In 1894, he starts his adventure to discover new countries, realities and cultures. He unveils millennial civilizations such as India, China, and Japan, also he is dazzled by the development of Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada, México, Cuba, Antillas, Barbados, Jamaica and Venezuela that are also part of his trip that ends when he returns to Europe in 1897, full of new experiences and energy to start a new life cycle.
That year, he settles in Paris and starts a new love affair with Anna Gillaud, a French girl he met in a previous trip and hired as his assistant. She is “the mate of my life”, he states in his will. She travelled to Chile with him as “his wife”, according to the publications at that time. They enjoy music and opera together, Santa María`s passion since he was young in Valparaiso. He becomes an assidous attendee to the Opera Theater in Paris, where he is now delighted by the best repertoire of the world.
In 1898, he bets for the sugar business, becoming well- known not only in the financial circles but also in politics, due to the conflicts he has with the French State. The French Congress starts an investigation for alleged speculation. They finally state that his actions were in accordance with the law. It is in this context, that Santa María made a lot of money –after some troubles– and risky bets in which he invests great amounts of money as it was his custom. Finally, they yield fruits as a result of a methodical market research and he becomes to be known as “The King of Sugar”.
In 1906, after an earthquake that devastates Valparaiso, he returns to Chile to contribute to re-build his beloved Valparaíso, but disappointed by politicians and their way to face the disaster he decides to return to Europe and devotes his time to his business. Thus, he becomes a strategist of big business matters, increasing his wealth.
When he arrives back to Paris, the First World War is beginning. Santa Maria and some few Chilean residents in Paris organize themselves in order to establish the Chilean-French Hospital, as acknowledgement to the French people for the help offered during the process of Chilean Independence. The hospital had as an aim to take in war wounded people, working with the best doctors available in Paris and Madame Marie Curie was one of them. At the same time, consistent with his altruist spirit, he decides to donate his farm Quebrada Verde to Valparaíso Charity Committee, (Junta de Beneficiencia de Valparaíso).
He is a tireless traveler and cosmopolitan in his view of the world but with a patriotic feeling. He is marked, in the same way, as his great-uncle José Miguel Carrera for the love for the nation and altruism. He is liberal in his preocupation for the cultural and educational development of the country. Santa María opens his mind in his trips comparing the different realities with his own, thus, inmersing himself of ideals, values and humanist awareness.
His life is austere and with no big conforts in spite of his fortune. He could have lived with great luxury but he has something different in his mind. Santa María leaves his manifesto expressed in his will and testament written five years before his death that took place in a cold Sunday, on December 20th, 1925 in Paris due to a pneumonia he had for a long time.