John W. F. Dulles is an American scholar of Brazilian history. He is a professor at University of Texas. He is 94 years old.
Interview: How To Become a History Professor
I just got my first copy of my book today. Resisting Brazil’s Military Regime. This is my 12th and last book because I can’t write anymore because I can’t move. I can’t do research. I’m 94. My uncle Allen headed the CIA.
When I was 23, I never thought I’d end up in the mining business. I was coming out of Harvard. My father probably would have never thought I’d be a professor. I don’t think you need to worry about not knowing at this stage. That’s my advice.
I graduated from Harvard Business School in 1937. Earlier before that I graduated from Princeton in ’35. And I went to go work for a bank in New York. I did not like my work. It seemed to be very slow progress in the bank.
After I graduated from Harvard, I felt that I was filled with ability. I could run the United States if I had to. I did not like being a lonely clerk in a bank. So I got into mining in a place outside of Nogales called Patagonia. It was a mining camp. I worked in a mine for awhile. I worked the long end of a muck stick.
It was quite a change because my father was a lawyer in New York. I went to a mining camp on the border of Mexico. I went to mining school at the University of Arizona and then spent 17 years mining in Mexico with a large company. I ran a machine, worked at the blast furnaces, and traveled all over Mexico on mule back, and sometimes trains. Although trains in 1940 were not too reliable. I remember sending a telegram to the main office in the company saying that tomorrow I should be catching the train that was supposed to be here yesterday.
I traveled down the west coast of Mexico and visited mines because I wanted to get the miners to ship their ore to our company. We wanted to turn the ores into metal. I wanted to persuade the miners ship to our rival. They were surprised and excited to see someone visit them. So they signed the contracts with me.
As things progressed, my work accelerated to working with the Mexican government. The taxes were so high that I had to persuade the Finance governor to lower the taxes so we could do business. While I was there I wrote a book called Yesterday in Mexico about the Mexican Revolution.
It took me a long time to see the finance minister because he was surrounded by a bunch of anti-gringos. But I needed to talk to him to get some relief. The secretary of the finance minster told me I couldn’t see him because he was seeing the President. So I wandered around the Presidential palace looking at the paintings, and I ran into the president of Mexico. He said, what are you doing here? I said I’m trying to see the finance minister. He said I’ll take care of that, and he made a phone call. Next thing I know I walk by the secretary who wouldn’t let me see the finance minister and I go to meet him to talk about getting a tax reduction. He agreed to the tax reduction, but the people under him wouldn’t give me the tax reduction. It takes a lot of time to go see the finance minister again. So I go see a lot of generals and presidents and write a book called Yesterday in Mexico.
Later on, the book got me a job at the University of Texas as a professor of Latin American studies. I was in mining in Brazil from 1959 to 1962. It was a bit difficult because of the anti-Yankee communist movement. Headlines in the paper saying Dulles get out! Dulles go home! I was an executive. Then I came here. I’ve been a college professor since 1962. I taught in Tucson for 20 years. I taught here in the Fall and taught in Tucson in the Spring. I knew half as much as the average professor, but if I go to two universities I could teach the same thing in two places. So I taught the spring semesters for 20 years.
It was in 1940 that I started. I got the title of Executive Vice President, but I did all the work and managing for the company in the 1950s. I went to Brazil in 1959 and was the Vice President of the company. It’s all a who’s who in America, and a who’s who in the world.
I think one should have a great interest in what one is doing and be active in that interest. I think that helps one’s attitude and prolongs ones life. I mean, I wouldn’t want to sit in a chair all day and watch television.
I don’t know how to work a computer.
The happy days for me were in the ore mining business traveling around. I even got an interest in a mine on the West Coast. It was a long way to travel to by mule back. It was a partnership I had with the Mexicans. We had a lot of high grade zinc. It was not big enough for a large mining company. More appropriate for a few people, like me and my Mexican partner. He got Leukeumia. He wanted to leave something for his for family. He wanted to sell the mine, so I got out of the mine so he could get some cash. We made money during the time we had the mine. It was a good thing to make a profit. It’s better now because they’ve extended the railroad.
I got married in 1940 in Philadelphia. I then put my wife on a train to a mining camp on the border of Mexico.
Prize fighting in Nogales. I was born upstate New York. He was a lawyer in New York. I had grandparents living in Auburn. My father’s father was a minister of the Presbertarian church. I used to give sermons at the church in Monterey. I taught a Sunday school class to the adults at the church. One of my activities on the side in Mexico.
What’s the most dangerous thing that happened to you?
I was mining on the border of Arizonan and Mexico. I was underground and I was a timber-man’s helper. I was on the shaft and it was very wet. And we were on these wooden things. I looked around, and my partner fell to the bottom of the shaft. He never recovered consciousness. The funny thing is that it should have been I who went down because I was wearing rubber boots. And he had leather. I’m telling you that rubber boots on the wet wood? I should have perished, but he did.
We used to have these hats so you could see underground. I had an automobile with a Ford convertible. I forgot to turn off the carbine lamp and the whole canvas burned out.
Four people out of 100 people were killed in the one year I was with it. There was an explosion in the power plant that sent pieces of bodies all over the place. Two people died underground. I think 4% death is quite high.
He was the head of the Brazilian communist party. I had an interview scheduled with him and he cancelled. Maybe he cancelled because of my name. I don’t know. That wasn’t very nice of him.
Journalists are helpful people. They hooked me up with all kind of leftist people. There was one important communist that was hiding out so he wouldn’t be arrested by the authorities. The journalists gave me the street he was hiding out on. I went to every house on that street and I found him! I gave him my card and what happened after that was he changed his address. He moved. He wouldn’t talk. I talked to his wife. Eventually the police caught him and put him in prison for no reason. He wasn’t active at the time.