Experience, centuries of knowledge and leadership

The second industrial revolution started in 1863 in Uruguay, led by Lemco and their brand of Corned Beef “Fray Bentos”; it was imposed in the world, getting to be known as “the world’s cuisine”. Lemco had the first Research and Development (R&D) laboratory and was probably the first transnational food manufacturer. Their main objective was to produce a low-cost meat extract with high nutritional value to feed the large contingents of workers in Europe.

The meat industry in Uruguay appeared as a technological spearhead in the world. Today the former Lemco-Anglo complex stands as an Industrial Heritage of Humanity declared by UNESCO: a treasure to be preserved that continues to arouse admiration among lovers of industrial history, technology, and the progress of mankind.

The great awakening: Liebig Co, Fray Bentos, 1863

There is a hidden history to be discovered, a secret of connoisseurs. The world’s awakening to technology, to increased productivity, to the well-being of societies. The first industrial revolution (1.0) began in Scotland with the steam engine, the looms, the locomotives, the first factories (1760). Fast forward almost one hundred years later, and the second industrial revolution was born, also somewhat distant from the metropolis, as Uruguay was not Argentina or Brazil, just as Scotland was not England. As is typically the case, innovation tends to occur similarly in places where it is needed for the place to stand out, and it happened in Uruguay, more precisely in Fray Bentos. The Liebig Company (LEMCO) was founded there in 1863 – an absolutely extraordinary enterprise from every point of view. The confluence of several elements made it happen, including the most outstanding chemist of the time, known as the Newton of chemistry: Justus Von Liebig. A renowned laboratory in Germany, then the cradle of the great discoveries. Another outstanding technologist, Max Pettenhofer, happened to work at that laboratory. There was also a Belgian engineer who knew the potential of South America and in particular the potential of Uruguay as a cattle supplier, his name was George Giebert. Finally, the company received significant funding and went public at the London Stock Exchange through an agreement signed between the Maua Baron and the Rothschild house.

A humanist, Liebig’s great objective was to produce an inexpensive but highly nutritional meat extract to feed the large contingents of workers in Europe. Giebert himself designed the machines they needed (they were all original designs, the high tech of the time). The machines were made in Scotland, leader of the first industrial revolution).

Lemco had the first Research and Development (R&D) laboratory and was certainly the first transnational corporation devoted to the production of food. Mass production, another characteristic of the second industrial revolution, significantly increased productivity and lowered costs. By design, the factory represented the best in the world: it was assembled with special parts that could be reused (disassembled) if necessary. Moreover, as the factory was erected close to the Uruguay River, it had highly efficient logistics, avoiding unnecessary transportation of its production.

A great brand: Fray Bentos

As time went by, LEMCO became Frigorífico Anglo, and the time came when chilled meat displaced meat extract and the whole line of existing products. However, Fray Bentos became popular in the European markets (especially in the case of Corned Beef). It was particularly so in the wake of World War I, when Fray Bentos became known as “the kitchen of the World”. Even today[PC1] more than a century later it is still a recognized brand in the UK for the quality of its products. It is perhaps Uruguay’s best known meat brand: the echoes of the past are still heard today. In 1877 a refrigerated ship with meat left Uruguay destined to Europe (May 29th, Meat Day): another pioneering experience of our country.