Acquiring Puerto Rico from Spain

In early 1898 Spain allowed Puerto Ricans to establish an autonomous government just before the Spanish-American War erupted that spring. With American victory Spain ceded Puerto Rico. It became a U.S. territory and was renamed Porto Rico by Americans in the early 1900s.

Governor’s palace and marina, San Juan, Puerto Rico, early 1900s

Governor’s palace and marina, San Juan, Puerto Rico, early 1900s

Courtesy of Victor A. Blenkle Postcard Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Creole Culture in Puerto Rico

From first settlement, the Spanish mixed with indigenous peoples. When Spanish administrators, military officers, and clergy colonized Puerto Rico in the 1700s they invested in the land, established families and businesses, and formed a multiracial creole culture. In the 1800s slaves, mulattoes, and free blacks worked the sugar and coffee plantations, and contributed to the island culture. Expressive musical, artistic, and religious traditions developed as singularly Puerto Rican.

 

Tiple, Puerto Rican stringed instrument, early 1900s

Gift of Teodoro Vidal

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Puerto Rican jibaro (peasant) lifestyle, by Francisco Oller, 1893

Puerto Rican jibaro (peasant) lifestyle, by Francisco Oller, 1893

Courtesy of Museo de Historia, Antropología y Arte, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Rio Piedras

Bomba drum, around 1980

Gift of Rafael Cepeda Atiles

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Guiro, percussion instrument, 1900s

Gift of Teodoro Vidal

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Santo, sculpture of religious veneration, 1800s

Gift of Teodoro Vidal

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An American Commonwealth

Puerto Rico’s strategic location was useful as an American refueling station and naval base, and its raw materials such as sugar supplied many American businesses. With costs of business excessive—and without access to credit—many Puerto Ricans sold their extensive sugar plantations to American companies after the Spanish-American War. The U.S. Congress provided U.S. citizenship status in 1917 and named the country a Commonwealth in 1951.

Puerto Rican enlisted men in American army, 1899

Puerto Rican enlisted men in American army, 1899

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Sugar sack, Porto Rican American Sugar Refinery, 1900s

Sugar sack, Porto Rican American Sugar Refinery, 1900s

Puerto Rican sugar plantation workers, 1942

Puerto Rican sugar plantation workers, 1942

Courtesy of Library of Congress