John Thomas North, the Nitrate King
Britain's connections with Chile date from her War of Independence, and were powerfully re-inforced by a Victorian company-promoter in the City of London.
In the export of British capital and enterprise in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the key role was often played by individual entrepreneurs who created the necessary interest among the investing public in the potentiality of overseas resources and who made possible significant developments in the areas of their operations, largely by the force of personal example. Such a man was John Thomas North, 1842-1896, known in his day as “The Nitrate King,” the principal promoter of an industry and trade that was the economic prop of the Latin American state of Chile from the 1880’s until the First World War. North was a remarkable Englishman who rose, in his own words, “from mechanic to millionaire” in the space of some twenty years, whose activities in the 188o’s and 1890’s were a constant subject of interest to the commercial press, and whose efforts to become a figure in society were almost as dramatic as his manipulation of the nitrate market on the London Stock Exchange.