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William Jenkins

paxman_jenkinsofmexico-coverWilliam O. Jenkins was a Tennessee farm boy who ventured to Mexico in search of fortune and became that country’s wealthiest and most infamous industrialist.

Dropping out of Vanderbilt, Jenkins eloped with a southern belle and settled in Mexico in 1901. Driven by a desire to prove himself – first to his wife’s snobbish family, then to elites who disdained him as an American – Jenkins would spend the next six decades building an enormous fortune, in textiles, property, sugar, banking, and film. Already a millionaire when the Revolution of 1910 broke out, Jenkins began speculating in property in his adoptive state of Puebla. He had a brush with a firing squad and later suffered a kidnapping by rebels, an episode that almost triggered a U.S. invasion. After the war he developed Mexico’s most productive sugar plantation, before diversifying as a venture capitalist.

en-busca-del-senor-jenkins-frenteDuring Mexican cinema’s Golden Age in the 1940s and 50s, Jenkins lorded over the industry with a monopoly of theaters and a major role in production. Reputed as an exploiter of workers, a puppet-master of politicians, and Mexico’s richest industrialist, Jenkins was the gringo that Mexicans most loved to loathe. After the death of his wife, wracked by guilt at having abandoned her, Jenkins became increasingly dedicated to philanthropy, finally creating a charitable foundation to administer his $60 million fortune.

The Mary Street Jenkins Foundation helped set up and develop two prestigious universities, including the Universidad de las Américas (UDLA-Puebla), and set a precedent for U.S.-style foundations in Mexico. It continues to operate today.

1959-opinion-publica-on-wojs-film-influenceMy biography of William Jenkins was published in Spanish by Debate/CIDE in November 2016 and in English by Oxford University Press in May 2017.

Jenkins, satirized as “Lord and Master of Mexico,” in 1959.

“Researched with care and written with verve, Andrew Paxman’s highly original study of the long and convoluted life of William Jenkins—entrepreneur, patriarch, philanthropist, and political fixer— is a fascinating read; it also sheds ample light on business and political (mal)practices during the Mexican Revolution and subsequent decades of state-formation and economic growth. For once, a book that manages to combine cogent scholarly research and stylistic flair.”—Alan Knight, author of The Mexican Revolution

  1. Mr. Paxman,

    My father, Feland L. Meadows, Sr. M.D., introduced me to Pop Jenkins when I was 5 years old in 1932. I saw him many times in Puebla and Atenzingo and Acapulco during the rest of his life. When I was 8 or 9, I went horseback riding with Pop Jenkins one day in Atenzingo. He was standing around for what seemed like hours talking to his workers in the cane field and I got restless and struck the rump of his horse with my quirt to hurry him up. Instead of moving faster the horse stood up on his hind legs and Pop Jenkins fell off into the mud. I hightailed it back to the hacienda and hid under a bed. I heard him walking by cursing that damn Meadows kid.

    My Dad was Director of the Hospital Latino Americano and was Jenkins’ physician. Mrs. Jenkins died from cancer and Pop and Dad collaborated to construct a cutting edge, world class Cancer Clinic in Puebla. When Pop passed away Jose Espinoza Iglesias, who was President of the Fundacion Hospital Latino Americano, converted the Cancer Clinic into a Best Western Hotel. It broke my father’s heart.

    Feland L. Meadows, Ph.D.
    Roberto C. Goizueta Endowed Chair
    Distinguished Professor of Early Childhood Education
    Kennesaw State University
    Kennesaw, GA

  2. Many thanks for your amusing reminiscence, Dr. Meadows. You will find several passages about your father in my book. Jenkins’ daughter Jane told me she never forgave Espinosa for turning that hospital into a hotel. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to come to Atlanta before long and meet you. Do please contact me at paxmana [at] Sincere regards from Mexico, Andrew

  3. Hector Rivera permalink

    Es un personaje digno de ser conocido, me encantaría leer su libro a cerca de Jenkins.

  4. hi! I’m from Atencingo and I have always being intrigued by its history. I remember how people just to talk about Mr. Jenkins ( Mister Jerkins that’s how they referred to him),they used to talk how rich he was and how strict too.
    Atencingo has a hisrory of its own believe me,still so beatifull and enigmatic!

  5. Mr. Paxman,
    In the 1950’s my great-grandfather was involved in defending the rights of the peasants that worked for Mr. Jenkins in the sugar cane fields, and was one of the many men that died in the hands of his leadership. In my family Mr. Jenkins doesn’t have a good reputation, but it would be interesting to read your book and learn more about his ideals behind everything he did.

    • Thank you for writing, Jazmine. I am sure that your great-grandfather did valuable work. However, Jenkins’ cane fields were mostly expropriated in 1937 and he largely quit the sugar industry in 1946, so those peasants may have been working for someone else. But I would be interested in hearing more about your ancestor. Please contact me at andrew.paxman [at]

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