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The First Brazilian Republic or República Velha (Portuguese pronunciation: [ʁeˈpublikɐ ˈvɛʎɐ], "Old Republic"), officially the Republic of the United States of Brazil, refers to the period of Brazilian history from 1889 to 1930. The República Velha ended with the Brazilian Revolution of 1930 that installed Getúlio Vargas as a new president.

President Artur Bernardes (1922-1926) and ministers of state, 1922. National Archives of Brazil.

Long before the first revolts of the urban middle classes to seize power from the coffee oligarchs in the 1920s, however, Brazil's intelligentsia, influenced by the tenets of European positivism, and farsighted agro-capitalists, dreamed of forging a modern, industrialized society—the "world power of the future". This sentiment was later nurtured throughout the Vargas years and under successive populist governments before the 1964 military junta repudiated Brazilian populism. Although such lofty visionaries were somewhat ineffectual under the Old Republic (1889–1930), the structural changes in the Brazilian economy opened up by the Great War strengthened these demands.

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 was the turning point for the dynamic urban sectors

Long before the first revolts of the urban middle classes to seize power from the coffee oligarchs in the 1920s, however, Brazil's intelligentsia, influenced by the tenets of European positivism, and farsighted agro-capitalists, dreamed of forging a modern, industrialized society—the "world power of the future". This sentiment was later nurtured throughout the Vargas years and under successive populist governments before the 1964 military junta repudiated Brazilian populism. Although such lofty visionaries were somewhat ineffectual under the Old Republic (1889–1930), the structural changes in the Brazilian economy opened up by the Great War strengthened these demands.

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 was the turning point for the dynamic urban sectors. Temporarily abating Britain's overseas economic connections with Brazil, the war was an impetus for domestic manufacturing because of the unavailability of British imports. These structural shifts in the Brazilian economy helped to increase the ranks of the new urban middle classes. Meanwhile, Brazil's manufacturers and those employed by them enjoyed these gains at the expense of the agrarian oligarchies. Coffee being a nonessential though habit-forming product which affords it a measure of stability and resilience, world demand declined sharply. The central government, dominated by rural gentries, responded to falling world coffee demand by bailing out the oligarchs, reinstating the soon-to-be disastrous valorization program. Sixteen years later, world coffee demand plunged even more precipitously with the Great Depression. Valorization, government intervention to maintain coffee prices by withholding stocks from the market or restricting plantings, then proved to be unsustainable, incapable of curbing insu

The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 was the turning point for the dynamic urban sectors. Temporarily abating Britain's overseas economic connections with Brazil, the war was an impetus for domestic manufacturing because of the unavailability of British imports. These structural shifts in the Brazilian economy helped to increase the ranks of the new urban middle classes. Meanwhile, Brazil's manufacturers and those employed by them enjoyed these gains at the expense of the agrarian oligarchies. Coffee being a nonessential though habit-forming product which affords it a measure of stability and resilience, world demand declined sharply. The central government, dominated by rural gentries, responded to falling world coffee demand by bailing out the oligarchs, reinstating the soon-to-be disastrous valorization program. Sixteen years later, world coffee demand plunged even more precipitously with the Great Depression. Valorization, government intervention to maintain coffee prices by withholding stocks from the market or restricting plantings, then proved to be unsustainable, incapable of curbing insurmountable decline in coffee prices in world markets. By World War I, the reinstatement of government price supports foreshadowed the vulnerability of Brazil's coffee oligarchy to the Great Depression.

Paradoxically, economic crisis spurred industrialization and a resultant boost to the urban middle and working classes. The depressed coffee sector freed up the capital and labor needed for manufacturing finished goods. A chronically adverse balance of trade and declining rate of exchange against foreign currencies was also helpful; Brazilian goods were simply cheaper in the Brazilian market. The state of São Paulo, with its relatively large capital-base, large immigrant population from Southern and Eastern Europe, and wealth of natural resources, led the trend, eclipsing Rio de Janeiro as center of Brazilian industry. Industrial production, though concentrated in light industry (food processing, small shops, and textiles) doubled during the war, and the number of enterprises (which stood at about 3,000 in 1908) grew by 5,940 between 1915 and 1918. The war was also a stimulus for the diversification of agriculture. Growing wartime demand of the Allies for staple products, sugar, beans, and raw materials sparked a new boom for products other than sugar or coffee. Foreign interests, however, continued to control the more capital-intensive industries, distinguishing Brazil's industrial revolution from that of the rest of the West.

With manufacturing on the rise and the coffee oligarchs imperiled, the old order of café com leite and coronelismo eventually gave way to the political aspirations of the new urban groups: professionals, government and white-collar workers, merchants, bankers, and industrialists. Increasing support for industrial protectionism marked 1920s Brazilian politics with little support from a central government dominated by the coffee interests. Under considerable middle class pressure, a more activist, centralized state adapted to represent the interests that the new bourgeoisie had been demanded for years — one that could utilize a state interventionist policy consisting of tax breaks, lowered duties, and import quotas to expand the domestic capital base. Manufacturers, white-collar workers, and the urban proletariat alike had earlier enjoyed the respite of world trade associated with World War I. However, the coffee oligarchs, relying on a devolved power structure relegating power to their own patrimonial ruling oligarchies, were certainly not interested in regularizing Brazil's personalistic politics or centralizing power. Getúlio Vargas, leader from 1930 to 1945 and later for a brief period in the 1950s, would later respond to these demands.

During this time period, the state of São Paulo was at the forefront of Brazil's economic, political, and cultural life. Known colloquially as "locomotive pulling the 20 empty boxcars" (a reference to the 20 other states) and still today Brazil's industrial and commercial c

During this time period, the state of São Paulo was at the forefront of Brazil's economic, political, and cultural life. Known colloquially as "locomotive pulling the 20 empty boxcars" (a reference to the 20 other states) and still today Brazil's industrial and commercial center, São Paulo led this trend toward industrialization due to the foreign revenues flowing into the coffee industry.

Prosperity contributed to a rapid rise in the population of recent working class Southern and Eastern European immigrants, a population that contributed to the growth of trade unionism, anarchism, and socialism. In the post-World War I period, Brazil was hit by its first wave of general strikes and the establishment of the Communist Party in 1922.

Meanwhile, the divergence of interests between the coffee oligarchs—devastated by the Depression—and the burgeoning, dynamic urban sectors was intensifying. According to prominent Latin American historian Benjamin Keen, the task of transforming society "fell to the rapidly growing urban bourgeois groups, and especially to the middle class, which began to voice even more strongly its discontent with the rule of the corrupt rural oligarchies". In contrast, the labor movement remained small and weak (despite a wave of general strikes in the postwar years), lacking ties to the peasantry, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the Brazilian population. As a result, disparate social reform movements would crop up in the 1920s, ultimately culminating in the Revolution of 1930. The 1920s revolt against the seating of Artur da Silva Bernardes as president signaled the beginning of a struggle by the urban bourgeoisie to seize power from the coffee-producing oligarchy.

This era sparked the failed but famed tenente (lieutenant) rebellion as well. Junior military officers, who had long been active against the ruling coffee oligarchy, staged their own failed revolt in 1922 amid demands for various forms of social modernization, calling for agrarian reform, the formation of cooperatives, and the nationalization of mines. In this historical setting, Getúlio Vargas emerged as president about a decade later.

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