Alfredo da Silva (1871–1942)

Companhia União Fabril (CUF) was the largest Portuguese business group of the early twentieth century. It was substantially the creation of the entrepreneur Alfredo da Silva who ran some 100 companies in diverse sectors: chemicals, textiles, transport, mining, olive oil, mechanical engineering, shipbuilding, tobacco, banking and insurance.

Da Silva was born in Lisbon to furniture dealer and financier Caetano Isidoro da Silva and Emília Augusta Laymée Ferreira. He studied botany, physics, chemistry and business and learned German, English and French. His father died when Alfredo was 14. At the age of 19 he took over running the family estate and three years later he was a director of the Lusitano bank and Companhia Aliança Fabril (CAF), which made candles, soap, glycerine and other chemical products at a small factory in Lisbon. Soon after this he was invited to make recommendations about establishing an electric tram system for Lisbon and became director of the company that ran it.

In 1898, when he was still only 26, da Silva proposed the merger of CAF with the established chemical company Companhia União Fabril (CUF). With the newly enlarged CUF he began a nitrogen fertilizer plant in 1908 at the village of Barreiro, across the Tagus estuary from Lisbon, which would become the largest industrial complex in Portugal. Da Silva built the facilities to create a town and developed social provision for workers and their families - a school, medical assistance and a social security system. In 1911 he entered the shipping industry, buying eight ships to transport his goods. He founded the cigarette manufacturer Tabaqueira in 1927. In 1937 CUF won the concession to run the shipbuilding yard of the port of Lisbon at da Rocha Conde de Óbidos (later named Lisnave). By the 1930s, the CUF group had factories in many parts of Portugal and employed 16,000 people in its diverse enterprises.

CUF continued to expand and be run by da Silva’s grandchildren until it was nationalised in 1975.