Gateway to the Americas

A Spatial History of Frankfurt on the Main

This project offers a spatial interpretation of European capital export during a high-water mark period of imperialism. Above: Click the maps to view different "geographies of capital" corresponding to European investments in North and South American governments, railroads, and businesses between 1856 and 1896.

Description. During the second half of the nineteenth century, central Europe emerged as the world's second largest exporter of capital to the Americas (after the British Empire). The city of Frankfurt/Main stood at the center of this enormous outflow of financial resources. After 1860, Europeans from around the continent converged on Frankfurt to invest in countries from Argentina to Mexico to Canada and the United States. Who were these investors, and where did they come from? Who put their money and faith into the Argentinian government in the 1880s? Where did enthusiasts of United States transcontinental railroads live? How did these geographies of capital shift over the course of the American Civil War, the global crisis of 1873, or the Panic of 1893? The "Gateway to the Americas" project draws on a unique set of geospatial data collected from the surviving account books of one Frankfurt-based bank to answer these and other questions. 

Project Scope. This project draws on the digitized portfolio transactions of more than 400 clients at Gebrüder Bethmann, one of Frankfurt's preeminent private banks in the nineteenth century. Over the period from 1856 to 1896, Bethmann's clients, including individuals, businesses, and charities, carried out more than 22,000 unique transactions. In addition to geospatial and time series identifiers, the data cover clients' asset choices, interest rate preferences, socioeconomic background, gender, and other variables. The "Gateway to the Americas" project was made possible with permission of the Institut für Stadtgeschichte in Frankfurt/Main, which administers the original archival documents upon which this project is based.

Methodology. This project employs geographic information systems like ArcGIS and Palladio to capture manipulate, analyze, and present spatial patterns within the portfolio transactions carried out at Gebrüder Bethmann. It also uses regression analysis to determine correlations between locational data and variables such as interest rates or asset choices. The "Gateway to the Americas" project has been sponsored by The Europe Center and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford University. 


Exploring the Data

Time Series Analyses. The Gebrüder Bethmann data include observations not only on investments made in the Americas but also in various European countries. On the right: a time series comparison between investments made in the Americas (red), the Austro-Hungarian Empire (green), Italy (blue), and the German Empire (purple). 

Note: Years with incomplete or no data have been omitted.


Map 1. Bourgeoisie, 1857-1896

Map 1. Bourgeoisie, 1857-1896

Map 2. Nobility, 1857-1896

Map 2. Nobility, 1857-1896

Mapping Class. The vast majority of individuals who invested in American securities at Gebrüder Bethmann were of what might be called "bourgeois" background: businessmen, lawyers, physicians (68%). The nobility, meanwhile, made up roughly 25%. Businesses, including banks, accounted for the rest. 

On a map, these differences appear in the form of a distinct geographic pattern. Gebrüder Bethmann's noble clients tend to hail from larger cities such as Paris, Frankfurt, or St. Petersburg. The far more numerous bourgeoisie lives in cities in and near Frankfurt. 


Tides of Capital Export. The Gebrüder Bethmann data permit an analysis of seasonal patterns. At what point during the year did Europeans buy and sell their investments in the Americas? 

Of course, the answer to this question depended on political and economic events in a particular year. On average, however, Europeans tended to purchase their securities during the winter months. Sales of assets were dispersed more evenly throughout the year. 

Image credit: All maps, tables, and diagrams displayed on this page were generated using the data processing program Tableau Software.