Growth of Albuquerque
Albuquerque’s fort and federal garrison came under attack at the outbreak of the American Civil War, when the territory suffered minor Confederate cavalry raids. In the winter of 1862, Confederate soldiers led by Gen. H.H. Sibley captured the town and held it until March, when Union forces arrived. In the years following the war, New Mexico Territory experienced the rise of an important livestock industry, with cattle ranchers and sheepherders bringing livestock and other animals into the area. Faced with the need to drive their herds hundreds of miles overland to market, the livestock producers lobbied for a freight railroad in the 1870s. Several regional lines finally extended to the city by 1880.
Albuquerque’s Old Town had lost importance by the late 19th century, when the railroad depot was built 2 miles (3 km) away, closer to the city’s present government centre. In the following years, Albuquerque appeared to be two cities in one—the Spanish Old Town, with its small buildings and winding lanes, and a sprawling American city.
Albuquerque became a major regional transportation centre, with rail lines serving as important instruments of economic growth. The territory’s population grew with the arrival of workers and immigrants, and Albuquerque was incorporated as a town in 1885. By 1891 the town had become a city. By 1918 thousands of “health seekers”—mostly victims of tuberculosis and other pulmonary diseases—had flocked to Albuquerque, which was served by several hospitals built by the federal government.
Newcomers to Albuquerque soon displaced the hidalgos, or noblemen, of the Spanish past to form a mostly “white” business elite, made up of merchants, bankers, and ranchers. With the rise of this new elite by the start of World War I, Albuquerque emerged as a conservative, Republican-dominated political centre that exercised broad influence on both New Mexico and the neighbouring regions of eastern Arizona and western Texas. Among the first acts of the new Republican majority was the institution of the city manager form of government in 1917, an innovation that broke the power of the predominantly Democratic ward bosses and their Hispanic constituencies.
The U.S. government’s presence increased in the 1930s, when more than a hundred federal agencies established offices in the city. The federal mark on the city grew even stronger after World War II, when the government chose Albuquerque as the site for the Sandia Complex (now Sandia National Laboratories), a diverse group of industrial facilities, military bases, laboratories, and offices, which earned the city the nickname “Little Washington.” Kirtland Air Force Base, established in 1942 as Kirtland Army Air Field, developed as an important testing ground for various weapons (some nuclear), while Albuquerque became a processing centre for stores of uranium mined on the nearby Colorado Plateau. During the Cold War period, Albuquerque was considered a strike target in the event of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
The contemporary city
At the end of the Cold War, Albuquerque’s economy began to diversify, especially in the development of solar energy systems and computer equipment. Even so, it remains heavily dependent on federal and military expenditures. The city’s explosive postwar growth—from a population of 35,449 in 1940 to more than 500,000 by the turn of the 21st century—mirrored that of the entire Southwest, and it did not slow down in the first decade of the 21st century.