San Agustín de Laredo, a colonial city of New Spain founded in 1755, was named for a town in Santander, situated on the north coast of Spain. Nuevo Santander, one of the last northern provinces of New Spain, was established by the Spaniard José de Escandón as part of the efforts to colonize northern México. Appointed governor, Escandón was responsible for colonization along the Río Grande, and a chain of six settlements were established, with Camargo being the earliest in 1749. The other outposts included Reynosa (1749), Dolores (1750), Revilla (1750), and Mier (1752). Since no missions or presidios were associated with its founding, Laredo is considered the oldest independent settlement in Texas and is the only remaining Spanish colonial settlement on the north bank of the lower Río Grande (Laredo Convention and Visitor’s Bureau).
Nuevo Laredo was born as a result of the treaty “Tratado de Guadalupe-Hidalgo” entered into by México and United States in February 1848 – ending the war between the two nations. Yet, in reality, the formal foundation of the city was on May 15th, 1755.
On May 30th, 1848, México and the United States established a new international boundary. The new border divided in two the “Villa de San Agustín de Laredo” and what is now known as Nuevo Laredo. This treaty divided Tamaulipas territory – which lost all territory north of “Río Bravo de la Villa de Laredo”. The then Governor Vital Fernández declared that, south of the river, the name of the new city would be called “Villa de Nuevo Laredo”. Older accounts relate that habitants from San Agustín De Laredo, after realizing they were going to wind up on the U.S. side and lose their Mexican citizenship, moved back to the Mexican side with all their belonging – including their buried loved ones.
The name of Laredo stems from the Glaretum language and means “sandy, rocky place”. Other opinions state that Laredo stems from Euskaro language and means “beautiful prairies”.
In 1891, Mexican State Congress changed the status from Village to City thus naming the city “Ciudad Laredo de Tamaulipas”. Nonetheless, tradition continued among people in simply calling the new city Nuevo Laredo to differentiate the American Laredo from the Mexican Laredo. After the Mexican Revolution, the name was changed back to Nuevo Laredo (Municipio Nuevo Laredo).
Nuevo Laredo has gone through a lot of dramatic changes. From its conception to date, this city has suffered major flood damages (1932) to great commercial improvements. The explosion of international trade has made Nuevo Laredo grow at an exponential rate, changing its economy, culture, and foremost, border crossing. Nuevo Laredo has three international bridges – two for pedestrian and light commercial crossings and one for Commercial Trade.
Trade has been the raison d’etre for both Laredos. At first the trade routes were over land in horsedrawn carriages. Some of the goods being imported into the U.S. were hides, furs, gold and silver ores, firearms, and manufactured goods like harnesses and saddles. Eventually a railway was built from Corpus Christi to Monterrey and the new railway bridge at Laredo was opened for service on July 1, 1881. This increased business for the Consulate to such an extent that the Consul was placed on a salary rather than merely taking in fees.
From the building of the railway into Mexico until about 1897, there was a great increase in trade that allowed both cities to grow and prosper. In 1895, a report from the Consul showed that imports into Mexico through Nuevo Laredo exceeded those of Matamoros, Piedras Negras, and Nogales combined. In 1922, the U.S. moved 70 percent of its exports to Mexico through both Laredos. At that time, the Mexican Consulate stationed in Laredo, TX was the second largest in the U.S. after New York City.
Nuevo Laredo has had consistent economic growth throughout the 1900s. There was a minor recession in the 1940s when the price of cotton on the world market collapsed. The economy eventually recovered, though, and then boomed as Nuevo Laredo became a hub for the maquiladoras. Maquiladoras are essentially factories built by multinational companies to take advantage of México’s lower labor costs. The first maquiladora in México was built here in 1962. What followed was a period of intense industrialization with many factories being built in the area. This period of economic growth and development continued through the 1980s. In order to help promote economic development, several business leaders got together in 1986 to form CODEIN, the Committee for Industrial Development of Nuevo Laredo. In the 1990s the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed, ensuring sustained economic growth. Entering into the new millennium, Nuevo Laredo had over 20,000 people employed at almost 60 maquiladoras.