Here's why a historic meat packing plant in Uruguay was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site

It may seem strange that a meat packing plant received recognition as a UNESCO cultural site of significance, but the Anglo meat packing plant in Uruguay has played a fascinating and vital role in history for years.

The plant was established in 1859 by the Liebig’s Extract of Meat Co. of Germany, and it later changed its name to the Anglo meat processing plant when a British firm took it over in 1924, according to the AP.

It became world-renowned for its production of corned beef, OXO bouillon cubes, and more than 200 other meat products that became staple foods that were exported for soldiers during World War I and World War II.

Anglo meat processing plant warehouseAP/Matilde CampodonicoThe massive warehouse of the Anglo Meatpacking plant.

Its iconic corned beef cans have become famous worldwide as symbols of the two wars, appearing in the film “Gallipoli” (when cans of the corned beef are shown in the middle of the battle of the First World War) and in “The English Patient.”

Today the cans are preserved in the local Museo de la Revolución Industrial.

Anglo meat processing plant cansAP/Matilde CampodonicoThe corned beef cans are on display at the Museo de la Revolución Industrial.

The town of Fray Bentos, where the plant is located, became so famous for its meat products that it became known as “The Great Kitchen of the World,” and its products became integral to British soldiers during the war.

“Not only did our products fill European stomachs; they also got into European hearts and minds,” Rene Boretto, director of the Museo de la Revolución Industrial, said in an interview with the BBC. “In World War I, soldiers would say ‘Fray Bentos’ to indicate that something was good, the same way we nowadays say OK.”

Historic photo of Anglo meat processing plantREUTERS/Museo de la Revolucion IndustrialThis historic photo taken sometime during the world wars is on display at the Museum of Industrial Revolution.

In fact, according to the BBC, during the first World War, British soldiers even named one of their few tanks Fray Bentos because they felt like tinned meat when they were inside it.

Anglo meat processing plant power stationREUTERS/Enrique MarcarianThe plant’s power stations.

In the 19th century, German chemist, Justus von Liebig, created a meat “tonic,” which we know today as the bouillon cube. He moved to Uruguay, where he went into cattle processing with Belgian engineer, Georg Gieber.

Their factory first opened as the Liebig Extract Meat Company in 1859.

Anglo meat processing plant meat juice extraction areaAP/Matilde CampodonicoA former worker poses for a photo in the meat juice extraction section of the historic Anglo meat processing plant. According to AP, the plant would give each worker almost 4 and a half pounds of meat to take home every day.

By 1887, the factory had become in such high demand from Europe that it had its own district with houses, cleaning and garbage services, a workers’ district and a specialised hospital for staff.

The plant was eventually taken over by a British firm and it operated day and night until it closed in 1979. Over 5,000 workers maintained the plant everyday, processing around 400 cows an hour and 2,000 sheep per day, making it one of the most advanced meat processing technology developers in South America.

Anglo meat processing plant machineREUTERS/Enrique MarcarianA visitor marvels at the can production sites of the plant, which used to export 16 million tins of corned beef in 1943.

To honour its history, the plant was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, the Museo de la Revolución Industrial stands at the site, displaying antique photos of the working factory and the plant’s original machinery.

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