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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 was the designer of the modern outline of the city of Havana, Cuba.[2]

Julius Popper
Juli0 Popper.jpg
Julius Popper
Born(1857-12-15)December 15, 1857
DiedJune 5, 1893(1893-06-05) (aged 35)
NationalityRomanian, Argentine

Known as a modern "conquistador" of Tierra del Fuego in southern South America, he was a controversial but influential figure. Popper was one of the perpetrators of the genocide against the native Selk'nam people.[3]


Julius Popper posing by a dead Ona killed during fight in 1886.
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, 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. He arrived in Argentina in 1885, where he became attracted by the possibility of gold mining in Tierra del Fuego. On 7 September 1886 he led an 18-man expedition that included a chief engineer, a mineralogist, a journalist and a photographer. They found gold dust on the beach of El Páramo, in San Sebastián Bay. 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 large amounts of gold and his Compania de Lavaderos de Oro del Sud realized enormous capital gains on 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 Selk'nam genocide against the native communities on 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, Popper too sent his armed forces to manhunt them.[4][5]

In 1886, with a permit from the Argentine Government, Popper formed an exploration company of eighteen men to mine for gold near San Sebastián, Tierra del Fuego. During the expedition, Popper and his men were attacked by eighty Ona armed with bows. Popper and his men responded by firing their Winchester rifles, killing all but two of the Ona. After the fight, Popper "posed his men in the attitude of troops repelling a charge, took a position himself astride one of the dead Indians, and then had the outfit photographed for subsequent use."[6]

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

After his sudden death in Buenos Aires at the age of 35, his empire collapsed. The cause of his death has not been established. Contemporary American journalist John R. Spears says that he was poisoned by "men whom he had offended in the south."[7]

In fictionEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Michael, Thomas; Cuhaj, George (2009). Standard Catalog of World Gold Coins. Krause Publications. p. 80. ISBN 1440204241.
  2. ^ Alem, Leandro N. "Julius Popper – El Emperador de la Patagonia". Taringa! (in Spanish).
  3. ^ [citation needed]
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Ray, Leslie (2007). Language of the Land: The Mapuche in Argentina and Chile. Copenhagen: IWGIA (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs). pp. 80, 207. ISBN 978-879156337-9.
  6. ^ Spears, John Randolph (1895). The Gold Diggings of Cape Horn. G. P. Putnam's Sons. p. 11.
  7. ^ Spears, John R. (1895). The Gold Diggings of Cape Horn: A Study of Life in Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. New Rochelle, NY: Putnam's Sons. p. 10.

Further readingEdit