Portuguese Industry and the Portuguese Industrial Heritage is a subject that in most cases is neglected or treated as merely curiosities from the past , in a sense of voyeurism or nostalgia of great deeds, something very typical of the portuguese people themselves, for whom the past serves only as reference and at the same time should stay in that realm.
Portugal, at the industrial revolution period, was still a predominantly a poor and rural country, not very well organized and with vast discrepancies from major cities to the interior. Those geographic differences are still noticed in some extent to our days.
Education was reserved for a selected minority that could afford it and with the rest of the population left in most cases in a situation of illiteracy. Work started at a very young age, as mean of economical support of the respective families.
Building an industrial Identity – foundations of the Portuguese Industrial Heritage
The Industrial Revolution started in England in the 18th century and extended to the 19th century, bringing new processes to areas like chemistry and steel making , leaving behind many hand manufacturing methods and, embracing technology as newly invented machines were brought to light, taking advantage of the increasing use of steam power. It was the birth of the true factory concept.
Production rates were greatly increased, opening and fueling the offer availability for otherwise limited products or goods.
As one of the most important historical milestone, the Industrial Revolution had a tremendous impact on everybody’s life.
Economy saw a sustained growth, alongside with population numbers, with people exhibiting higher levels of income and thus better “life conditions” (better life conditions substantially better from the previous ones, although still insufficient).
At the center of these rapid changes we find two major industries that saw an unprecedented growth, the steelmaking industry and the textile industry.
The Industrial Revolution spread, like a wave, throughout Europe and at full force by the beginning of the 19th century.
As for Portugal, things were no different, but at a different pace, in fact, Portugal only saw a major industrial development in the period from mid 40’s to late 70’s ( Steel industry, is a perfect example on how Portugal skipped the industrial revolution on this area), however, a much greater impact was felt in the textile sector, which we might say, lived the industrial revolution from it’s beginning, and a major sector in the portuguese industrial heritage of our days.
Portugal didn’t had an industrial revolution in the 19th century at the same pace it was happening in the rest of Europe, changes however were felt in some business areas,
Different factors contributed to the late impact of the Industrial Revolution, either political either economical and social, all contributing to a tenuous industrial development outcome.
Portuguese Industrial Heritage – The textile Case
Textile industry is in it’s essence intimately connected to the industrialization period lived from the 18th to the 19th centuries. It is a perfect example of this period, for a trilogy very well known and identified (Textiles, Steam power and Iron Industry) and also an industry that saw many technological advances, vital for the economy.
Portugal early adopted and embraced the progresses made to the textile business at about the same time they were being implemented in the rest of the European countries, with more or less of a time lag, mostly in the 19th century.
The textile sector suffered intense mechanization mainly during the 18th century, with new methods and tools, ultimately making available many products that were otherwise expensive (in the case of imported goods and cotton from foreign countries) or with limited availability, mostly because of handcrafted production.
Industrial Revolution brought a clear shift from a handicraft based business, to factory production model, with the majority of the factories adopting a fully vertical management system, covering all aspects of production.
Importance of mechanization and the foundation of a true textile industry in Portugal quickly caught the attention of some industrialists mostly in northern Portugal, from a well educated background and with the financial means at their disposal (or by partnership) to put ideas and projects running.
The most notable example of vision and entrepreneurship is certainly the example of the Fábrica de Fiação e Tecidos do Rio Vizela, founded on 12 September 1845, the first true textile factory in Portugal.
By this time, the early adopted improvements and technology brought to the textile industry were very well established and matured enough to serve as implementation models with more or less standard machinery and processes.
Many other factories appear in the region of Vale do Ave, about the same time as the Vizela factory, all of them paying a substancial contribute for the industry itself and local populations, but also, the foundation of a recognized pole of knowledge and expertise of the textile industry.
Vale do Ave has been transformed since mid 19th century, from a simple place to an important landmark of industrial heritage as the center of the national textile industry as a true Portuguese Industrial Heritage case to be preserved.
In another pilar of the Industrial Revolution, the chemical industry, new processes, new synthesis and new products were constantly being implemented, tested, or discovered.
Chemistry and chemical manufacturing has seen many of its major discoveries from the very beginning of the 18th century, with constant innovations, allowing many base chemistry products to be available in unprecedented quantities, and supporting many other industries with their products.
From large base chemistry production to the birth of the dyestuff industry in the 19th century followed by pharmaceuticals, chemistry never stoped innovating and, its still today one of the sectors that allocates large investment sums in Research & Development.
Not only textiles and chemistry were at the spotlight, iron & steel, mining, gas lighting, steam power and machine tools, cement, developments in transportation systems, roads, improved waterways, and the dawn of electricity. All those areas combined together pushed and launched the identity we all recognize today in industrialized countries, in some of their factories.
Preserving the past, building the future – The role of industrial Heritage
Nowadays, large European companies all share to some extent a common historical tie, as most of them have their foundation at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
Companies seizing the immense opportunity brought by the industrial revolution, permitted them not only to be more technologically advanced, but at the same time an early spirit of vanguard was created, mainly fueled by competition.
Innovation Culture is something that we commonly see in the present, with cases particularly important like those observed in highly technological companies operating in telecommunications, energy and many others in the cutting edge of development.
And the past ?
Strong Industrial identity (and brand identity) can only be achieved by means of heritage preservation, core values and of course, time.
Industrial preservation (in it’s different aspects like, cultural, technological and infrastructural) is of paramount importance as a way to not only creating a clear picture of the technology and socio-cultural situation of those companies, but also, providing us a better understanding of their impact on their business areas and creating a strong bond between company-workers-population, through achievement-pride relationship.
It’s heritage that plays a major role in the reestablishment of consumer trust and brand preservation in more complicated situations that might haunt a brand or an industry and most importantly, it’s the basis for launching strategic new products that need to have solid reputation and acceptance.
Heritage as identity , for future remembrance , on what we have accomplished but also on how did we do it.
Portuguese industrial heritage is something that we tend to forget but urgently need to start remembering.
Those who do not preserve their past are doomed to be forgotten in the future.