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Bernard Kramer of Kramer Associates.

Bernard Kramer (1811 - 1882) was a German-Mexican miner and businessman who was the founder and first president of Kramer Associates from 1865 until his death in 1882.

California Gold Rush and Rocky Mountain War[]

Kramer was originally a miner from the Germanic Confederation who traveled around the world searching for wealth. He arrived in California in the early 1840s, "at the height of the gold rush," evading or bribing his way through the Mexican Army cordon. Kramer was unsuccessful as a prospector, and wound up going into business supplying the other prospectors. He proved to have a talent for business, and by the outbreak of the Rocky Mountain War had become one of the wealthiest men in the state.

During the war, Kramer served in the California Guard under General Francisco Hernandez. Sobel doesn't say how Kramer gained an officer's commission, but it is possible he did so by recruiting and equipping his own company of soldiers. By the time of General David Homer's invasion of California in 1850, Kramer had risen to the rank of major, and took part in the Battles of San Fernando and Williams Pass, surviving both.

After the war, Kramer continued to build his business, and also developed an interest in politics. As a supporter of Andrew Jackson's racial hierarchy and a proponent of Mexican expansion, Kramer was a natural supporter of the Continentalist Party. Kramer favored Pedro Hermión in 1845, and initially supported Arthur Conroy, but opposed Conroy's electoral reforms in the early 1860s. Kramer was able to buy Alberto Gomez, James FitzHugh, and Omar Kinkaid seats in the Mexican Senate, and his financial support played a key role in Kinkaid's successful 1869 Presidential campaign.

Kramer Assocates and the Kinkaid Canal[]

By the mid-1860s Kramer was becoming dissatisfied with California's isolation from the Atlantic trade network. In 1865, he and twenty-five other wealthy California businessmen formed a consortium called Kramer Associates to "explore means by which the system of transportation within California, and between California and the rest of the world, might be bettered." K.A. initially invested in railroads, dry goods, and canning, but Kramer also hired California's leading mining engineer, Courtney Wymess, to explore new transportation possibilities. In 1866, Wymess recommended building either a railroad or a canal across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Chiapas. Kramer rejected Wymess' proposals, and instead became interested in a canal running through the New Granadan province of Panama. However, Panama was in dispute between New Granada and Guatemala, and Wymess convinced Kramer that a canal through Guatemala across the Lago de Hernandez and the Rio San Juan would be a better choice.

Guatemalan President Miguel Rubio was initially favorable to the idea of K.A. building a canal in Guatemala, but in 1869 Kramer learned that Rubio had awarded rights to a canal to a German consortium backed by King Frederick William V of the Germanic Confederation. Kramer responded by financing a coup d'etat by Guatemalan Senator Vicente Martinez in March 1870. Once Martinez was in power, he cancelled the German contract and awarded rights to K.A. Wymess was immediately sent to Guatemala to begin work on the canal, which he claimed could be completed by Janaury 1, 1874. In fact, due to the high mortality rates among workers caused by malaria, yellow fever, and lack of sanitation, the Guatemalan Canal was not completed until 1878.

Kramer and Mexican Politics[]

In 1869 Kramer formed a political alliance with Jeffersonian oil magnate Monte Benedict; together, the two businessmen were able to buy the Presidential election for Continentalist candidate Omar Kinkaid. Five years later, Kramer and Benedict also became business partners, as Benedict united the Jeffersonian oil companies under his control as the Petroleum of Mexico Corporation and purchased a 38% share of Kramer Associates. While work on the canal continued, Benedict's engineers discovered oil in Durango and Chiapas.

The 1875 Presidential election was a divisive one. The Liberty Party suffered a split when Senator Carlos Concepción left the party and formed the Workers' Coalition. Following Kinkaid's re-election, Concepción and his followers launched a guerilla movement called the Moralistas to overthrow the government, and began carrying out attacks against government targets in Mexico City and the U.S.M.'s Pacific and Gulf ports. Kinkaid responded to these attacks by taking up Conroy's reforms, promoting social legislation and greater government control over business. Kramer and Benedict naturally opposed these reforms, using their financial control of the Continentalist Party to delay their passage.

Kinkaid's reforms were finally halted for good when he was assassinated on December 7, 1879. Kramer claimed that Liberty Party leader Thomas Rogers was behind the assassination, while Concepción blamed Kramer. The Senate chose Senator George Vining of Jefferson to serve out the remainder of Kinkaid's term.

Vining created a secret police force called the Constabulary to put down the Moralistas, and at Kramer's prompting named Benito Hermión, the son of former President Pedro Hermión and the President of the Jefferson & California Railroad, as Commandant of the Constabulary. When Constabulary agents attacked the Workers' Coalition's national convention in Palenque, Chiapas, killing Coalition leader José Godoy and 22 others, the result was a national uprising by the U.S.M.'s Mexicanos. Vining placed the country under martial law, and Constabulary agents began carrying out executions of suspected Moralistas and incarcerating thousands of Mexicanos in concentration camps. Vining suffered a fatal heart attack on September 12, 1881, nine days before the Presidential election. The Cabinet suspended the elections, and named Hermión as Chief of State.

Kramer did not have much time to see his hand-picked dictator in action. He suffered a stroke in February 1882 and died two months later. His position as President of Kramer Associates passed to Diego Cortez y Catalán.

Sobel's sources for the life of Bernard Kramer include his own Men of Great Wealth: Operations of the Kramer-Benedict Combine (Melbourne, 1956), as well as Mortimor Dow's The Giants of Mexico: The Political Maneuverings of Kramer and Benedict in the Industrial Era (Mexico City, 1950), Stanley Tulin's He Straddled the Continents: The Life of Bernard Kramer (London, 1960) and The Kramer Associates: Its Origins (London, 1965), and Thomas Mason's The Jefferson-California Axis of 1866-1876 (London, 1967).

This was the Featured Article for the week of 4 November 2012.

Presidents of Kramer Associates
Bernard KramerDiego Cortez y CatalánDouglas BenedictJohn JacksonCarl Salazar