This product was used by Florence Nightingale, Scott on trips to the South Pole and was carried by Stanley when he searched for Livingstone. What really made Oxo famous was the First World War, when Oxo cubes were part of the standard emergency rations issued to troops. At home, wives collected wrappers and sent for the Oxo Trench Heater, a kit containing a stand for the mess tin and special lighters to put underneath to heat up the contents. By the end of the war, more than 100 million cubes had been sold and Oxo was a household name (despite being a German company at heart). However, the company had money problems in the1920s and sold out to an English company who massively enlarged and modernised the plant, renaming it 'El Anglo’.
The plant brought modern methods and ‘benevolent capitalism’ to Uruguay. Workers came from all over the world and were given ‘fair pay’, houses in the barrio still called El Anglo, boots and work clothes. The company set up health centres, schools and social meeting places including sports clubs. The factory generated its own electricity (the first in Uruguay) and sent its products all over the world. The scale of the operation was incredible and the company organised its businesses so that every part of the animal was used (although some, such as the skins, were sold on for processing).
The plant is now a decaying hulk. The museum has some interesting stuff and the guided tour took us around the buildings and the processes. However, it is hard to really imagine the hundreds of head of cattle arriving by train and being washed, killed, gutted and processed through the factory every day (although I’m not sure we really wanted to see that anyway!) Parts of the factory are interesting buildings that would, if fortunately placed in England, already be converted into apartments and smart cafés.
In Fray Bentos, despite the very best efforts of the local council, it all seems doomed to a slow lingering death. There are recurring stories of one company or another starting the thing up again but these have not yet ever come to anything. It’s not high season but there were 4 of us on the morning tour, not enough to pay the tour guide’s wages. (And anyway, they didn’t charge us, so we actually made a profit - admittance to the museum was included in our hotel tariff, there are no tickets so they gave us the cash to get in.)
Apart from the museum, there is little to see or do in Fray Bentos. A small museum shows paintings by a local artist Luis Solari that are a bit interesting but won’t detain you much longer than a half hour. The town has some attractive and peaceful little squares with seats that have the usual gangs of families sitting out until the early hours.
The hotel we are staying in gave us some free tickets for the town cinema but it only opens on Saturday and Sunday so we can’t use them. We walked by the river, which is swollen and has flooded all the picnic areas but has not spread into buildings because the riverside has high stone embankments. We watched a tugboat taking a bigger boat into the river and there were some lads canoeing but apart from that there wasn't much happening. We did manage to use the hotel's voucher to get a free ice cream in a local heladeria but we have been spoiled by Nonna Blanca’s in BA.
We were really surprised to find a place in Uruguay called Fray Bentos (and I bet we weren't the first - or last!) We thought it merited a visit and some research. The town did, indeed give its name to the Fray Bentos products including corned beef and the pies in tins, although this was not the main brand name until relatively recently. The story actually begins in the 1860s when a German company, Leibig, developed a process to concentrate beef and market it as OXO (first in small jars and later in the cubes). The meat was expensive in Europe so they set up a plant in Uruguay where cattle was cheap.