This book explores two intertwined historical processes closely associ-
ated with worldwide modernity: the geographic expansion of factory produc-
tion and the transformation of gender roles, whether real or potential, that is
implied by women’s waged labor. As a history of the social relationships and
cultural understandings that shaped industrial work in a prosperous Latin
American city, it is meant as a corrective to overly simple generalizations
about ‘‘import-substitution industrialization’’ or ‘‘third world women work-
ers.’’ Wherever foreign or native entrepreneurs imported factory machines
from Europe and the United States, they also imported ideas and practices
associated with that machinery. Such ideas and practices were intermingled
with entrepreneurs’ more or less self-conscious plans for remaking local eco-
nomic relationships. In Colombia, for example, many early industrialists
saw themselves as social engineers. Yet factory owners nowhere controlled
the social and cultural activity by which industrialism was made local.
I begin by asking how people on the ground (and in the workrooms built
to house newly arrived machines) experienced, understood, and changed
the meaning of factory labor in the first half-century of Colombia’s indus-
trial experiment.
Although its name is now synonymous with drug trafficking and urban
violence, Medellín, capital of the Colombian province of Antioquia, once
enjoyed a very different reputation. If Bogotá, the country’s capital, claimed
to be the ‘‘Athens’’ of South America, Medellín presented itself as the re-
gion’s ‘‘Manchester,’’ where local capital had transformed a mountain town
into the birthplace of an urbanized, industrial Colombia. Between 1905,
when the city’s first cotton mill began production, and the early 1960s, when
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