How To Build a City Out of Corned Beef


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South America » Uruguay » West » Fray Bentos
January 31st 2010
Published: June 16th 2017
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Geo: -33.1394, -58.3043

Remember all the cows of the gaucho years? Well, they're still a bunch of them around. Their history is integral to the history of the country and nowhere is that more apparent than in Fray Bentos.

In 1863 a German engineer developed a system to process beef and, funny thing--discovered Uruguay at the same time. Beef--Uruguay, it works. Situated on the Uruguay River and thus with easy access to the outside, this sleepy port city became a giant producer of beef products that literally fed the world.

They shipped a million cow's worth of beef to countries all over the world, much of it as OXO Cubes to troups in WWI and WWII. As the technology increased the ability to can beef safely increased as well. The main product was corned beef, the kind I remember eating as a kid. Those cans of corned beef in our pantry probably were packed in Fray Bentos.

This process became so successful it is considered the beginning of the industrial revolution along the Rio de la Plata, a river born just south of Fray Bentos where the Parana joins the Uruguay at Neuva Palmira.

For almost 100 years the packing plant and the town of Fray Bentos flourished. It's an awesome feeling walking the quiet streets of this little town now, knowing it fed the world not so very long ago. There are still signs of those glory years, but the city is dying. And it's a shame, because it's a beautiful place.

It appeared momentarily that the pulp mill would be a stimulus for the local economy, but the controversy surrounding it and the closing of the International Bridge have slowed progress. Uruguay's incoming president has vowed to get the bridge going again. I hope for Fray Bentos' sake, he can.




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