The Argentine legacy of an Angus family’s pioneering invention is still stamped in Buenos Aires after 135 years.
There are 100,000 people of Scottish descent in Argentina but the role the Scots played in the rapid growth of the country’s economy is less well known than that of countries from the former British Empire.
Douglas Fraser and Sons from Arbroath was established in the early 1830s before expanding their business into Argentina after Mr Fraser’s youngest son Norman invented a machine for plaiting jute to make candlewick in 1881.
The firm was looking for ways to diversify and through a Basque entrepreneur with links to Argentina they identified an opportunity for mechanising the production of jute-soled shoes called Alpargatas using this technology.
The factory built as a result in 1885 still stands just a couple of blocks from the Boca Juniors football ground La Bombonera and it displays a plaque with the heraldic portcullis of Arbroath.
A bell which had summoned the workforce to its Wellgate Works is also prominently displayed in the foyer of a luxury apartment block in Buenos Aires as testament to the link with Arbroath.
After initial struggles, the business in Argentina took off and spawned sister companies in Uruguay and Brazil and became a vast enterprise.
Simon Fraser, who was born in Arbroath, but now lives in Skye, said the key to the success was the plaiter.
Mr Fraser, whose grandfather Norman was Douglas Fraser’s youngest son, said: “A significant number of Arbroathians went to South America to work for these companies.
“The Frasers helped finance the establishment of Alpargatas and then kept the firm afloat during the initial hard years and this enabled them to impose restrictions whereby Alpargatas could only purchase machinery manufactured by Douglas Fraser and Sons in Arbroath.
“I understand this situation continued until the time of Peron and not only resulted in major employment in Arbroath but had a significant effect in reducing the economic problems of the town during the depression years of the 1930s.
“The growth of Alpargatas, using Scottish talent in textile engineering, finance and merchantry, in the latter part of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, to become one of the largest firms in that country, typifies that enterprise and the significant part which Tayside was able to play in the growth of Argentina.”
In 1959, Douglas Fraser and Sons was taken over by Giddings and Lewis from Wisconsin but a world slump around 1970 hit machine tools particularly hard and the business is no more.
Following the winding up of Douglas Fraser and Sons, the factory bell, which had summoned the workforce to its Wellgate Works in Arbroath, was hung above the entrance to the original Buenos Aires factory in a special ceremony, and rung by David Craig, the oldest Arbroathian then with Alpargatas.
A gathering of Douglas Fraser’s decendants have met every year since 1994 and they are expecting even more in 2017 in Arbroath including Robert Fraser, who is the fifth, great great grandson of the founder of Alpargatas.