Joaquim Tomé Fèteira (1846–1918)

One of the characteristics of industrialization is specialization: the concentration of production of certain products in a few places or a few companies. An example of such specialisation is the domination of the firm of Joaquim Tomé Fèteira in the production of files and rasps. Fèteira built up his company at Vieira de Leiria in Portugal and it still exists there, exporting its products globally.

Files and rasps of different kinds are hand tools used since prehistoric times to work metals, wood and stone and essential in a wide variety of trades including carpentry, sculpture and precise crafts such jewellery, locksmithing and watchmaking. Until the nineteenth century, files were manufactured by hand. Steel blanks were forged, ground on a wheel and annealed before the lines in the surface were cut out with a chisel and the file was hardened in a furnace. Cutting was often a domestic industry. This appears to have existed with other metalworking crafts in Vieira de Leiria by around 1820. French or Belgian craftsmen who were in the armies of the Napoleonic Wars may have introduced new metallurgical techniques.

The town of Vieira de Leiria, on the coast between Lisbon and Porto, was a good location for the industry as the exploitation of the huge pine forest of Pinhal de Leiria required hand tools and provided fuel for forges. Products could be taken from Vieira to the two great trading ports. It seems that Tomé’s father had a metal workshop in which he began working as a boy of nine or ten in 1856 – which he later suggested was the date he started his business. He learned trade secrets to produce tools of high quality. At first, he made rasps for carpenters. By the late-nineteenth century many members of the Fèteira family were making files in different workshops. A limited company was set up titled Empresa de Limas União Tomé Fèteira (Tomé Fèteira united file company). This broke into foreign markets across Europe and South America. It is said that the company at its greatest size employed 1,200 workers. Several of Fèteira’s sons became successful businessmen.