Liebig's Extract of Meat Company

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French Advertising for Liebig's Extract of Meat, c. 1900
Italian Advertising for Liebig's Extract of Meat, c. 1900

The Liebig's Extract of Meat Company (Lemco) was the originator of Liebig and Oxo meat extracts and later Oxo beef stock cubes. It was named after Baron Justus von Liebig, the German 19th-century organic chemist who founded it.

Early development[edit]

Main article: Meat extract

In 1840, Liebig developed a concentrated beef extract to provide a cheap and nutritious meat substitute, Extractum carnis Liebig, for those unable to afford the real thing, but European meat was too expensive for it to fill that role. Instead, his extract was dispensed by the royal pharmacy as a tonic.

George Christian Giebert, a young Belgian engineer, read of Liebig's work and wrote to him suggesting that they meet to discuss opening a manufacturing plant in South America using the flesh of cattle that, before the popularity of canning or freezing meat, would otherwise have been killed for their hides alone, bringing the cost of meat to one third of the European cost. The Liebig Extract of Meat Company (Lemco) was established on 4 December 1865 in London with a capital of £150,000.

Since 1863 the industrial plant, owned by the Societe de Fray Bentos Giebert & Cie., was operating on the banks of the Uruguay River at Villa Independencia, Uruguay, later called Fray Bentos, where the extract was manufactured.

Products[edit]

Liebig's meat extract is a molasses-like black spread packaged in an opaque white glass bottle, and contains only reduced meat stock and salt (4%). It takes 3 kg of meat to make 100 g of extract. It was promoted in Europe as being invaluable not only as a supplement for the malnourished but also in the kitchen. The product enjoyed an immense rise in popularity. By 1875, 500 tonnes of the extract were being produced at Fray Bentos plant each year. It became a staple in middle-class European households and for soldiers, including the Allied forces of World War II. It was even used by European adventurers such as Sir Henry Morton Stanley on his trip to Africa. It is still sold by Liebig Benelux.

In 1873, Liebig's began producing tinned corned beef, sold under the label Fray Bentos. Later, freezer units were installed, enabling the company to produce and export frozen and chilled raw meat as well.

The British tonic wine Wincarnis originally contained Liebig's meat extract and was initially called Liebig's Extract of Meat and Malt Wine.

A cheaper version of Liebig extract was introduced under the name Oxo in 1899. Later, the Oxo bouillon cube was introduced.

Liebig also produced a line of biological products under the Oxoid name (starting in 1924), in particular glandular extracts and later dehydrated culture media.

Corporate history[edit]

Liebig monument in front of the gate

In the 1920s, the company acquired the Oxo Tower Wharf on the south bank of the river Thames in London. There they erected a factory, demolishing most of the original building and preserving and building upon the riverside frontage.

The Liebig Extract of Meat Company was acquired by the Vestey Group in 1924 and the factory was renamed El Anglo. Liebig merged with Brooke Bond in 1968, which was in turn acquired by Unilever in 1984.

In the meantime, Oxoid had moved to its own facilities in Basingstoke. Oxoid was purchased by Unilever and joined their Medical Products group as Unipath. In 1997, Oxoid became independent through management buy-out and in 2000, PPMVentures, a subsidiary of Prudential Plc, bought a majority stake. In 2004, Oxoid Ltd was purchased by Fisher Scientific with the Oxoid board of directors sharing £30 million in cash and company shares. Following the merger of Fisher Scientific with Thermo Electron Corporation in November 2006, Oxoid Ltd (along with Remel Inc) became a division of Thermo Fisher Scientific. They are currently known internally, within Thermo Fisher as the Microbiology Division, but both exist as official UK and USA registered legal companies as Oxoid Ltd and Remel Inc.

Fray Bentos works[edit]

The works and yards at Fray Bentos ranked among the largest industrial complexes in South America and helped usher in the industrial revolution there. The plant played a major role in the development of Uruguay's cattle sector, which is still one of the country's main sources of export products. It attracted many European immigrants and, in its heyday, had 5,000 employees. It is said that an animal was processed every five minutes. Every part of the animal was used.

In 1964, a typhoid outbreak in Aberdeen was traced to Fray Bentos corned beef. Investigations into the 1964 Aberdeen typhoid outbreak revealed that the cooling water used in the canning process at the plant was not being consistently chlorinated. Meanwhile, Britain's entry into the Common Market affected trade patterns. These factors combined had a serious negative impact on sales, and in 1971, the complex was given to the Uruguayan government. The plant's viability never recovered and the production ceased completely in 1979, a major blow to the area's residents. The complex is now an industrial museum.

Fray Bentos canned meats, now owned by Baxters,[1] are still sold in Europe. The brand also offers meat pies, which have been manufactured in Britain since 1958.

Liebig Football Club, later renamed Club Atlético Anglo, was established in 1905.

Industrial Revolution Museum[edit]

Thousand of people worked in the “frigorifico”, which increased and diversified the use of agricultural products. When it was shut down the opportunity for the creation of a unique museum was presented, where the original machinery and social and cultural artefacts of the technological revolution in Fray Bentos can be shown to the world. The municipal government is working on a tourist and cultural project to preserve the German and British industrial heritage. All this work is also very important for the preservation of the history of Fray Bentos city, which grew simultaneously with the factory. The museum shows, for tourism and educational purposes, the machinery used in the meat and extract of meat process, the edifices, an 1893 Merryweather water pumping machine, a complete canning plant, an invaluable and extremely interesting plant where the meat was cooked, a laboratory full of chemicals and chemistry jars, flasks and stoves and hundred of photos and glass negatives with the Liebig's Company working life… Fray Bentos´ industrial heritage of buildings and machinery is still intact. Dr Sue Millar from England said: “Thus there is the chance to save time and massive expenditure on conservation, to retain the exceptional scope and variety of the 19th and 20th century British manufacturing and engineering machinery…”

Cookbook[edit]

A popular cookbook, The Liebig Company's Practical Cookery Book by Hannah M. Young, was published in 1893[2] and re-released in 1999 (David Brown Book Co., ISBN 1-870962-16-8).

Advertising trading card sets[edit]

Liebig produced many illustrated advertising products: table cards, menucards, children games, free trade card sets, calendars, posters, posterstamps, paper and other toys. These were often in the form of trading card sets with stories, historical tidbits, geographic tidbits, and so on. The sets usually consisted of six cards, one card included per product sale. Many famous artists were contacted to design those series of cards, which were first produced using true lithography, then litho chromo, chromolithography and finally offset printing. The cards remain popular with collectors and are often collected in albums.

Bibliography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "BBC News - Baxters Fray Bentos acquisition cleared". BBC News website. BBC. 30 December 2011. Retrieved 22 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Schlesinger Library Catalog Search

External links[edit]