compañía italo-argentina de electricidad

buenos aires: ciae bibliography

CIAE manhole cover, Buenos Aires

Over the last month, I’ve read more about the Argentine electricity sector than I ever thought possible. Two things surprised me most during this investigation: a large amount of misinformation across the board & huge gaps in scholarship. Fact checking does not seem to be very important nor does consulting original sources, so errors propagate throughout books & journals. For example, something as basic as the year a company was purchased or the amount of time a concession was extended should be easy to verify. I’m not writing a thesis, but it’s difficult to form opinions with so much misinformation floating around.

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buenos aires: ciae building list / inventario

CIAE, building map, 1931

A list of all buildings which once belonged to the Compañía Italo-Argentina de Electricidad must exist somewhere in old company archives. But after being absorbed by SEGBA in 1979, it’s anyone’s guess as to where that list may be. And how many of those structures have been demolished since then? Reading & researching the CIAE’s crazy history over the past month, I also noticed that there is no online source dedicated to the CIAE. That needs to change.

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buenos aires: ciae, fade to black

CIAE, manhole

The 1940s presented a series of new problems for the electricity sector. Perón’s dual policy of fixing rates & massive industrialization led to demands the network was unable to meet. To overcome problems & oversee supply, the ministry Agua & Energia de la Nación was created in 1947. Soon followed a 1949 constitution clause to nationalize all public utilities. Perón never followed through with nationalization, but the idea had been planted firmly in everyone’s mind.

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buenos aires: ciae scandal

CIAE advertisement

During the 1920s, the UCR policital party (Unión Cívica Radical) attempted to investigate the pricing structure for electrical companies which serviced Buenos Aires.  While being accused of price gouging, the CIAE & the CHADE attempted to extend their 50-year concessions & renegotiate prices. Both discussions came to a halt in 1930 when General José Félix Uriburu ousted President-elect Hipólito Yrigoyen in the first coup d’etat in Argentine history. Since Yrigoyen represented the UCR, most of the party took the overthrow personally & withdrew from politics. An active UCR splinter faction had little power since Uriburu disbanded the legislative body of Buenos Aires for two years.

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buenos aires: ciae expansion

CIAE, Buenos Aires, Puerto Nuevo, superusina

After service began in 1914, the CIAE continued to grow as demand increased. They invested heavily in infrastructure –approximately 75-85% of profits until 1950. Their main competition, the CATE, had financial difficulties in Europe after World War I, & in 1920 company control passed to the Belgian holding company Société Financière de Transports et d’Entreprises Industrielles (SOFINA). To mark the change, the CATE became the Compañía Hispanoamericana de Electricidad (CHADE) with head offices in Barcelona & Madrid. Large investment kept the CHADE as the largest supplier of electricity in Buenos Aires, especially after the 1929 opening of a super-generator port complex:

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buenos aires: ciae architecture 4

CIAE architecture, Juan Chiogna, Buenos Aires, Puerto Madero, subestación

The smallest scale CIAE structures designed by Juan Chiogna are nothing more than decorative boxes. Transformer substations were needed to distribute electricity throughout the city… in order to overcome cable resistance, transformers are used to ramp up the voltage before sending it to substations where it is then converted back to regular voltage for local consumption.

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buenos aires: ciae architecture 3

CIAE architecture, Chiogna, Buenos Aires, Recoleta, Subusina Montevideo

In 1915, the largest generator complex —Pedro de Mendoza— opened in the barrio of La Boca. But the CIAE began offering service the previous year from a facility in Recoleta. That building belongs to the next set of structures in terms of size:  6 subusinas which housed secondary generators named for the streets on which they are/were located. Besides generating electricity, customer service centers were located in three of the five buildings, marked below with an asterisk.

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buenos aires: ciae architecture 2

CIAE architecture, Buenos Aires, La Boca, Chiogna, Usina Pedro de Mendoza

The CIAE ensured that Juan Chiogna’s Romanesque Revival spread throughout Buenos Aires plus its southern suburbs & remains a distinct feature of the entire urban area. Buildings appeared on three scales & larger structures had more decorative elements. The largest of Chiogna’s works was the first generator complex in La Boca, the Usina Pedro de Mendoza. Initially a 3-story rectangular structure in 1915, it occupied approximately one-quarter of the city block with the street façade decorated by a tower on one end & an ochava office entrance on the other:

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buenos aires: ciae architecture 1

Buenos Aires, CIAE subestación, vector render

With financial needs met, a concession from Buenos Aires granted & service scheduled to begin in 1914, Carosio hired Juan Chiogna to build fantastic covers for CIAE generators & substations. Reminding passersby of Medieval Italy, these eye-catching structures only served as decorative shells to house large machinery, spare equipment & cables. Local architects term the style “Lombardy Romanesque” likely due to an early reference found in La Nacion newspaper in 1916:

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buenos aires: ciae & swiss holding companies

Paris, Éclairage par l'électricité, Compagnie Continentale Edison

The 1881 Exposition Universelle in Paris wowed crowds with telephone-transmitted concerts from the Opéra & a demonstration of Edison’s recent improvement of an old idea: the incandescent light bulb. Edison carefully guarded the 1879 patent of the light bulb & only allowed the Compagnie Continentale Edison to diffuse his device in France… some of the original access panels in Paris can occasionally be found [photo above]. Licensing agreements were also given to two German entrepreneurs: Werner von Siemens & Emil Rathenau. Rathenau established the Deutsche Edison Gesellschaft, later reorganized in 1887 as the Allgemeine Elektrizitats-Gesellschaft (AEG). As mentioned in the previous post, the AEG would play an important role in bringing electricity to Buenos Aires.

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