Julius Popper

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Julius Popper
Juli0 Popper.jpg
Julius Popper
Born December 15, 1857
Bucharest, Romania
Died June 5, 1893
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Nationality Romanian, Argentine
Ethnicity Jewish
Known for Selknam genocide

Julius Popper (December 15, 1857 – June 5, 1893), also known in Spanish as Julio Popper, was a Romanian-born Argentine engineer, adventurer and explorer.[1] He is responsible for the modern outline of the city of Havana, Cuba.[2]

Known as a modern "conquistador" of Tierra del Fuego in southern South America, he was a controversial but influential figure. He was responsible for the genocide of native Selknam people.


Julius Popper (?) with a murdered Ona.
5-gram gold coin
1891 stamp by Popper

Popper was born in 1857 to a Jewish family in Bucharest, son of professor Neftali Popper, a prosperous antiques merchant, and his wife Peppi. He studied in Paris and completed gaining credentials as an engineer.

After working in Europe for several years, he took a job working on the infrastructure for the telegraph in Chile. On 7 September 1886, together with eighteen people, he as captain, chief engineer, mineralogist, journalist and photographer, started the "Popper Expedition." He found gold dust on the beach of El Páramo, a Patagonian peninsula. The expedition was rigorously and strictly enforced according to military standards with heavily armed men, with Popper in direct command of everything. He succeeded in unearthing great amounts of gold and his Compania de Lavaderos de Oro del Sud realized enormous capital gains at the Argentine stock exchange. A mint built to manage the gold has been adapted as the Museum at the End of the Earth, officially known as the Museo Territorial.

In Patagonia, Popper gained dominance with a private army. He issued his own coins and stamps to symbolize his power. When the Argentine peso lost its value in the market crash of 1890, his gold coins were regarded as currency.

Popper vigorously fought against his enemies; he punished gold diggers and thieves according to arbitrary law. The most controversial aspect of his life was his participation in the Selknam Genocide, a genocide against the native communities in Tierra del Fuego. Sheep farmers and gold miners fought against them; the former because the Selk'nam would hunt sheep in their former territories and the latter because of conflicts over mining areas. Together with other bounty hunters, who were paid to kill the Selk'nam, he sent his armed forces against this indigenous people.[3][4]

Popper also prepared an expedition to enforce the Argentine claim for parts of Antarctica.

After his sudden death at the age of 35, his empire collapsed. Popper died in Buenos Aires. The cause of death has not been determined. Some sources[who?] say that he was assassinated in his hotel room by a stranger.

In fiction[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael, Thomas; Cuhaj, George (2009). Standard Catalog of World Gold Coins. Krause Publications. p. 80. 
  2. ^ (Spanish)Alem, Leandro N.: Julius Popper - El Emperador de la Patagonia, http://www.taringa.net/posts/apuntes-y-monografias/10535300/Julius-Popper---El-Emperador-de-la-Pata (acces. Dec. 2011)
  3. ^ Odone, C. and M.Palma, "La muerte exhibida fotografias de Julius Popper en Tierra del Fuego", in Mason and Odone, eds, 12 miradas. "Culturas de Patagonia: 12 Miradas: Ensayos sobre los pueblos patagonicos", Cited in Mason, Peter. 2001. The Lives of Images, P.153
  4. ^ Ray, Leslie. 2007. Language of the Land: The Mapuche in Argentina and Chile, p. 80

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