Feature: The Little Beef Cube That Circled the Globe
In 1865 the Liebig Extract of Meat Company located its pioneer South American plant near the river town of Fray Bentos, 35km west of Mercedes. It soon became Uruguay’s most important industrial complex. British-run El Anglo took over operations in the 1920s and by WWII the factory employed 4000 people, slaughtering cattle at the astronomical rate of 2000 a day.
Looking at the abandoned factory today, you’d never guess that its signature product, the Oxo beef cube, once touched millions of lives on every continent. Oxo cubes sustained WWI soldiers in the trenches, Jules Verne sang their praises in his book Around the Moon, Stanley brought them on his search for Livingstone, and Scott and Hillary took them to Antarctica and Everest. More than 25,000 people from more than 60 countries worked here, and at its peak the factory was exporting nearly 150 products, using every part of the cow except its moo.
Enshrined as Uruguay's newest Unesco World Heritage site in July 2015, the former factory is now a museum – the Museo de la Revolución Industrial. Dozens of colorful displays, ranging from the humorous to the poignant, bring the factory's history vividly to life: a giant cattle scale where school groups are invited to weigh themselves; or the old company office upstairs, left exactly as it was when the factory closed in 1979, with grooves rubbed into the floor by the foot of an accountant who sat at the same desk for decades. Note that most signs are in Spanish only.
One- to two-hour guided tours (the schedule varies) grant access to the intricate maze of passageways, corrals and abandoned slaughterhouses behind the museum. At 11am on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays visitors can also tour the Casa Grande, a mansion that once housed the factory's manager.
The adjacent town of Fray Bentos, with its pretty riverfront promenade, is the southernmost overland crossing over the Río Uruguay into Argentina.