A Brief History of Uruguay

By Tim Lambert

Early Uruguay

In 1516 a Spaniard named Juan Diaz de Solis became the first European to reach Uruguay. In the 16th century, the Spanish took Argentina while Portugal took Brazil. What is now Uruguay was between them but its lack of mineral wealth meant that for a long time both nations took little interest in it.

However, in 1726 the Spanish took Uruguay founded Montevideo. In 1776 Uruguay became part of the vie-royalty of La Plata. In 1811 the people of Uruguay rebelled against Spanish rule led by Jose Gervasio Artigas. However, in 1821 Brazil annexed Uruguay. However, Uruguay finally became independent in 1828. Uruguay gained a constitution in 1830.

Unfortunately, in 1839 Uruguay became embroiled in a disastrous civil war between Blancos (Whites) and Colorados (Reds). In 1852 the Colorados took control of Uruguay. Then in 1865-1870, Uruguay joined Brazil and Argentina in a war against Paraguay.

In the later part of the 19th century, the population of Uruguay rose as many immigrants came from Europe and the economy developed. Sheep farming became very important and by 1900 the population of Uruguay had risen to 1 million. In 1903 Jose Batlle y Ordonez became president of Uruguay. He was president from 1903 to 1903 and again from 1911-1915. Ordonez was a reformer and he introduced a welfare state in Uruguay. In 1932 women in Uruguay were given the right to vote.

Modern Uruguay

Uruguay remained neutral during the Second World War. Then in the 1950s, the price of wool fell and the economy of Uruguay suffered. In the 1960s a Marxist urban guerilla movement called the Tupamaros began operating in Uruguay. Finally, in 1973 the army seized power in a coup. The military dictatorship in Uruguay lasted for 11 years.

In the early 1980s, Uruguay suffered an economic crisis and there were many protests against the regime in 1984. Finally, in 1985 Uruguay returned to civilian rule. Prosperity returned to Uruguay until 1999 when a recession began. It lasted until 2002. However, the economy then grew again.


In 2024 the population of Uruguay was 3.4 million.

Last revised 2024