Julius Popper (December 15 1857 – June 5 1893) was an engineer, adventurer and explorer of Romanian Jewish origin. He is responsible for the modern outline of the city of Havana, Cuba. As a "conquistador" of Tierra del Fuego in southern South America he was a controversial but influential figure.
Popper was born in Bucharest, son of professor Neftali Popper, a prosperous antiques merchant. He studied in Paris before arriving to Argentina on 1885 hoping to find gold. In 7 Sep. 1886, together with eighteen people, he as captain, chief engineer, mineralogist, journalist and photographer, they started the "Popper Expedition" and found gold dust on the beach of El Páramo, a Patagonian peninsula. Expedition was rigourosly and stricly enforced after military standards with heavily armed men with Popper in direct command of everything. He succeeded in unearthing great amounts of gold and his Compania de Lavaderos de Oro del Sud realized enormous capital gains at the Argentine stock exchange.
In Patagonia, Popper gained dominance with a private army and he issued his own coins and stamps to symbolize his power. When the Argentine peso lost its value in the market crash of 1890, even there his gold coins were regarded as currency.
Popper vigorously fought against his enemies; gold diggers and thieves were castigated after arbitrary law. However, the most controversial aspect of his life is his involvement in the genocide against the native communities in Tierra del Fuego. There is evidence Popper engaged into "hunting" indians, an activity for which he cashed one pound for every indian, man, woman or child, that he killed. Photographs from the period show him and his men massacring onas with rifles and automatic weapons.
Opposing Argentine Governors were eliminated by intrigues and through the media. Therefore, he was granted more and more land by the government. Popper even prepared an expedition to enforce the Argentine claim for parts of Antarctica.
After his sudden death at the age of 35 his empire collapsed. Popper died in Buenos Aires, the cause of death remains unclear, but sources reveal being assassinated in his hotel room by a stranger.