17th – Early 20th Century

During the 17th until the early 20th Century most economic activity was centered on agriculture, particularly sugar production, so it came as no surprise that most manufacturing that would have taken place during that time was also based on this particular crop production. One cottage industry that grew out of this particular economic activity during the 17th – 20th century was that of the manufacturing of pottery. Manufacturing of clay pottery took place in Chalky Mount, St. Andrew, where skilled potters used the clay deposits found in the area to make clay pots that were subsequently used to cure Muscovado sugar. After emancipation such potters continued to ply their trade by making various household wares that were either traded by women in Bridgetown or sold directly to hotels and visitors.

Another industry that was born out of this era was that of the rum industry. Dating back from as early as 1637, one witnessed the distillation of Barbadian rum which was done on small scale distilleries around the island. Initially, such distillation was not systematic but with the official opening of Mount Gay in 1703, rum production became organised and regular. To aid in such rum and sugar production, the Central Foundry Ltd. and the Barbados Foundry Ltd. were created (The latter being registered in 1910). Both of these companies offered services such as electrical maintenance; installation of diesel pumps, electric motors etc.; welding and many other services to various companies especially those involved in sugar and rum production.

Another company by the name of the Barbados Cooperage Limited was also established in 1929 to give assistance to rum and sugar producers. This company was in the business of importing staves that were consequently utilised in the manufacturing of barrels.

As the 20th Century approached, and early into this century, many of the manufacturing businesses as we know them today opened their doors. At this point, we saw the expansion of manufacturing that was not based solely on agriculture this therefore signaled a shift in manufacturing within Barbados. These businesses included:

  • Cole’s Printery (1860)
  • The West Indies Rum Distilleries (1893)
  • BICO Ltd. (1901) began its operations with the production of ice but by 1950 the company had set up a small ice-cream plant and was in the business of producing ice-cream. In August 2009, the BICO manufacturing plant was destroyed by fire,
  • Purity Bakeries (1910)
  • The West India Biscuit Company (1910) was established to produce a range of biscuits to the local and regional market. It played a vital role in the survival of local persons during the two World Wars since imported food was scarce.
  • Zephirin’s Bakeries (1923)
  • R.L. Seale and Company (1926)
  • Roberts Manufacturing Co Ltd. (1944) origins dated back to the first decade of the 1900s with a gentleman by the name of Mr. James Roberts who was in the business of producing soaps. Over time he expanded his business to include the production of ‘Oleo’ margarine. It was then in 1944 that Mr. Roberts was propositioned by a Mr. Hunte to further expand the company’s operation and change its management structure. Mr. Hunte’s proposal consequently gave birth to the Roberts Manufacturing that we know today. In 1956 the company began making animal feed and in 1973 it stopped its soap production.

Buy Local Campaign Organised to Boost Local Manufacturing

The Manufacturer, a Journal of the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association September’s 1989 Special 25th Anniversary Issue. In 1965, a standing committee was set up to formulate plans for a “buy local” campaign. The campaign’s main aim was to promote the need for Barbadians to buy locally produced goods, thereby supporting our local manufacturing industry. This campaign ran for the month of June and consisted of radio and television features, shop window displays and an exhibition at Pelican Village. The campaign’s slogan was “Build Barbados, Build Industry”.

Buy Local – An Ongoing BMA Theme

“Buy Local” is an ongoing theme of the BMA. The Association has stressed that not only manufacturers benefit from the buying local concept; but the country benefits as well through the creation of jobs in industry while at the same time avoiding the leakage of foreign exchange.

In 1972, the first Trade Fair organised by the Association was held. It was called “Furniture ‘72” and was the first exposition of its kind to feature locally-made furniture. The opportunity offered Barbadian furniture manufacturers the much welcome chance to display their skill as well as a wide variety of furniture technique and styles to the public.

Industry Week

Another furniture exposition was staged during “Industry Week”. On this occasion the public saw the introduction of a Mobile Exhibition which complimented the annual show window displays. This exhibition visited several rural areas, demonstrating to the public the range and quality of locally made items. This novel presentation met with acceptance wherever it was viewed. “Furniture ‘73” was however, held at the Ursuline Convent.

The “Buy Local” concept has intensified over the years especially around “Industry Week”. This week which took place in 1975 was planned jointly by the BMA and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to replace the two weeks that would have been celebrated otherwise.

Steps were taken in 1981 to boost the buy local theme with the introduction of EXPO ’81. This was a local furniture exhibition during Industry Week which featured activities organised by the IDC. The exhibition itself was a highly successfully venture which was praised by government officials including the Minister of Trade. Attorney General, Henry Forde expressed the opinion that it should become an annual event. Soon BMEX was born and today has become the largest local trade exposition. However, this name was adopted in 1982.