Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Arnold Bertram | Revisiting the history of industrialisation in Jamaica - Part Two

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2023 | 12:22 AM
This 1954 photo shows Caribbean Cottage Crafts’ display of shoes, sandals, hats baskets, ladies’ hand bags and fans made from straw at the Jamaica Industrial Fair.
This 1954 photo shows Caribbean Cottage Crafts’ display of shoes, sandals, hats baskets, ladies’ hand bags and fans made from straw at the Jamaica Industrial Fair.
In this 1963 photo workers are seen sorting out fruits at the Citrus Growers Association processing plant in Bog Walk.
In this 1963 photo workers are seen sorting out fruits at the Citrus Growers Association processing plant in Bog Walk.
Arnold Bertram
Arnold Bertram

In response to rising unemployment, two leaders of the emerging national movement called for the expansion of industrial development. In 1934, Marcus Garvey, founder of the People’s Political Party, convened a six-day conference to discuss plans for the economic development of the island.

The conference petitioned the colonial administration for a £10 million development budget with £1 million earmarked for a “Central Industrial Bank to sponsor manufacturing”. In 1938, Dr Oswald Anderson, mayor of Kingston, convened the All Jamaica Industrial & Economic Conference, which added its voice to the call for industrial development and argued for greater use of local materials.

However, after the conference, James Gore’s application to the Colonial Office for permission to erect a large manufacturing plant that would reduce the price of cement and create 600 new jobs was denied. British Colonial policy protected the British manufacturers of cement.


Then came the 1938 Labour Rebellion, which brought the peasantry and working class to centre stage and transformed the emerging national movement into a mass movement. The founding of the People’s National Party (PNP), led by Norman Manley, and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), led by Alexander Bustamante, gave the masses the power to elect the members of the House of Representatives in the 1944 General Elections, the first to be held under Universal Adult Suffrage.

In 1945, Norman Manley called on the Colonial administration for “the establishment of an Industrial Development Board with power by Law to provide capital and finance for approved industries”. This was the first demand for an industrial policy by a political party in Jamaica. That same year, the eminent St Lucian-born economist, Arthur Lewis (1915-1991), published “An Economic Plan for Jamaica”, which stated that “only a great increase in secondary industry [can] solve Jamaica’s unemployment problem” and that “Jamaica should plan to add at least 50,000 to its factory population within ten years … .”

Industrialisation was perceived as the only solution to the chronic state of unemployment in Jamaica, confirmed by the 1943 Census, which showed that in a population of 1,237,000 as many as 105,000 persons were unemployed.


In the House of Representatives, the majority JLP initiated the building of an institutional framework for industrialisation by enacting the Textile Industry Encouragement Law of 1947. This facilitated the establishment of The Ariguanabo Textile Mills by Cuban industrialist, James Hedges in 1951. The Pioneer Industries Encouragement Law followed in 1949, which allowed manufacturers “to import free of customs duty and tonnage tax all building materials, tools, plant and machinery used in construction, extension, or the equipping of the pioneer factory”.

Despite the progress, the manufacturing sector made little headway until 1949. The economy was dominated by a backward agricultural sector, which “accounted for 31 per cent of total product … about 70 per cent of the output of secondary industry… close to 90 per cent of the total value of visible exports … and employed more than 40 per cent of the labour force”. (Owen Jefferson)

The Plan for Progress published by the PNP in 1949 specifically called for the establishment of an Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to fund industrial enterprises and provide incentives for foreign investment. The objective was both to reduce unemployment and to raise the living standards of the Jamaican people.

Despite losing the 1949 General Elections, the PNP minority in the House of Representatives, led by Norman Manley, maintained an unceasing pressure on the JLP majority to pass the legislation required to establish the Agricultural Development Corporation in 1951 and the Industrial Development Corporation in February, 1952. Both laws, which established the legislative framework for industrialization, was a major triumph for bi-partisan cooperation.


The IDC’s mandate was to “stimulate, facilitate, and undertake the development of industry” to provide financial and technical assistance to new industries whose development would cause either a reduction in imports or increase in exports. Robert Lightbourne, a Jamaican then living in England, was recruited as the first anmaging director and Neville Ashenheim the first chairman. However, it was not until 1953 that the ministerial system was introduced and a Ministry of Trade & Industry established.

The IDC established an industrial estate of 300 acres in western Kingston and granted direct loans to provide working capital as well as other services, including market surveys and feasibility studies. Factory buildings were also constructed for rental. In 1954, the first Industrial Fair was staged in Kingston by the Jamaica Manufacturers Association, and that same year, the Mahfood brothers established Caribbean Metal Products (CMP) industries and its subsidiary, West Indies Synthetics Group of Companies.


Agro-industry moved ahead with the establishment of the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) in 1944, which after signing a 10-year contract in 1949 to supply “2,750 tons of concentrated hot pack orange juice” annually to the United Kingdom, constructed a processing plant and laboratories at Bog Walk to process, pack, and market citrus products.

The CGA’s extension service, led by Lehenue Rhoden and Vilmour Bennett, increased the exports of citrus and citrus products by over 400 per cent between 1951 and 1955. Both officers also kept Jamaica’s citrus industry abreast of modern technology by establishing relationships with the Lake Alfred Citrus Research Station in Florida and the French Institute of Research in Martinique.

The Coffee Industry Board established in 1950 to promote, regulate, monitor, and guide the development of the coffee industry in Jamaica modernised the entire production process with the opening of the Central Grading and Finishing Works on Marcus Garvey Drive in the Kingston Industrial Estate in 1954. “For the first time, coffee from the central factories was processed with the most modern and efficient machinery available.”. Exports of roasted and processed coffee moved from 761lbs in 1950 to 1,520lbs in 1955.


However, the most far-reaching innovation was the creation of a technological platform for Jamaica’s popular-music industry. Up until 1946, mento was played by bands on the streets and for dances in thatched booths and markets. This changed radically that year when Hedley Jones returned to Jamaica and built a 100-watt “special Williamson form amplifier” to drive the giant sound systems that he built for Thomas Wong, aka “Tom the great Sebastian”, Arthur “Duke” Reid, the “Trojan” and Seymour “Sir Coxone” Dodd, the early triumvirate of operators who entertained the masses in the dance halls of Kingston.

In 1954, the technological platform was advanced with the establishment of Jamaica’s first recording studio, Records Limited by Ken Khouri at 129 King Street, which began pressing records under franchise for the United States-based Mercury Records.

The upper classes could never have conceived that within the peasantry and the working class, the two most oppressed and exploited social classes resided the creative power that gave us mento, Jamaica’s first indigenous musical genre, and later, ska, rock steady, and reggae - the genres that took the world by storm and established Jamaica’s first creative industry.

Despite the challenges, between 1950 and 1955, the contribution of manufacturing to Jamaica’s gross domestic product increased to 13.6 per cent with textiles, food and beverages, cement and metal products as the leading growth commodities.

Arnold Bertram is a historian and former minister of government. Send feedback to or