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SMITH BELL - ABOUT US
Contact Details

Philippine Office
Smith Bell Building
2294 Pasong Tamo Extension
1231 Makati City, Philippines

Telephone
63 (2) 816-7851 to 58


Fax
63 (2) 813-6949
63 (2) 815-0199
63 (2) 867-1904

Email
ho@smithbell.com.ph


 

a history unfolds...  
 
 











or more than 160 years, Smith Bell & Company, Inc. has been dynamically involved in various business ventures in the Philippines. Reputed for its integrity and professional excellence, Smith Bell's history is colored with a sense of expansion, growth and diversification.

EARLY BEGINNINGS. The origins of Smith Bell & Company, Inc. date to 1838, when a young Scotsman named James Adam Smith was sent to the Philippines to look after the interest of Jardine Matheson & Company. Six years later, after establishing good connections, Smith went into partnership with Henry Constable and Robert Philip Wood. This partnership eventually served as the foundation of what was to become Smith Bell & Company, Inc. By June of 1846, Wood opened the firm of Constable, Wood and Company.

The name Smith Bell & Company finally came into being when Robert Wood set up partnership with an American named Lawrence R. Bell. Bell managed the company for a while after Wood left for England. Eventually, Bell also left Manila for unknown reason but the name continued to stay ever since.

The company primarily engaged in trading, import and export. Hemp (abaca) was a leading item for export and was shipped mostly to the United States to meet the demand of the Atlantic and Pacific shipbuilders. This extensive trading enabled Smith Bell to serve as a bridge between the Asian countries and the West, introducing the country to foreign goods and opening its international markets.

By 1849, Smith Bell was appointed agents of Imperial Insurance Company, Ltd. marking the involvement and entry of Smith Bell into the insurance industry. Years later, it would be appointed as agents for Lloyd's of London in 1877, as well as agents for seven other insurance companies. Smith Bell was also designated as Philippine agents for Sunlife of Canada until Sunlife set up its own office in Manila in 1928.

The year 1866 saw the expansion of Smith Bell as it opened its Cebu branch, the first of many branches to be established throughout the archipelago. In the succeeding decades to come, Smith Bell's pioneering efforts would gradually emerge but the company would be beset with more difficulties on a national scale.

REVOLUTION AND CRISIS. In 1880, the country experienced one of its worst rice shortages because of milling inadequacies. Responding to this acute situation, Smith Bell also operated its own fleet of lighters and inter-island steamers, the company was able to distribute rice to the southern provinces. Aside from the rice shortage, the company also had to cope with the sugar shortage crisis. Smith Bell established the Luzon Sugar Company, the first sugar refinery in the islands located a few miles north of Manila.

While the company had to contend with one crisis after another, it also managed to reach peak performance. During these years, most foreign firms engaged in the import-export trade and banking operations also ventured into shipping, fire and marine insurance and became agents of international lines and companies. Towards the end of the 19th century, Smith Bell held the agencies of at least four banking institutions, seven insurance firms and at least six shipping lines and was the representativeof several commercial Spanish inter-island vessels.

Aside from its regular businesses, Smith Bell's achievements and projects also showed marked diversification and expansion. One of its most prominent accomplishments was the erection of the San Sebastian Church. Smith Bell supervised and arranged the construction of the all-steel infrastructure, which was prefabricated in Belguim and assembled piece by piece.

Moreover, during the revolution era, Smith Bell also attempted to pioneer in oil exploration. It started to drill oil in Cebu in 1896 but abandoned the project because the oil was of non-commercial quantity.

THE AMERICAN ERA. Coinciding with the extension of free trade between the United States and the Philippines, Smith Bell was incorporated into a domestic liability corporation in 1909. The War in Europe from 1914 to 1918 gave Smith Bell a chance to achieve maximum prosperity as products such as copra, hemp and sugar were in great demand and the islands imported more manufactured goods.

At around this time, Smith Bell's pioneering spirit and risk-taking capabilities were once again boldly enchanced as it further expanded and diversified. In shipping, the company acted as general managers of Compaņia Maritima and represented a number of British steamship companies. Smith Bell also became agents for the Asiatic Petroleum Company, which was to be later known as Shell. It also acquired Underwood Corporation to venture into business machines and office equipment. Another breakthrough involved the forming of Red V Coconut Products, Ltd. which entailed the manufacture and exportation of desiccated coconuts.

All these dynamism ended with onset of World War II. Smith Bell closed shop because most of its key people were imprisoned in concentration camps by the Japanese.

All these dynamism ended with onset of World War II. Smith Bell closed shop because most of its key people were imprisoned in concentration camps by the Japanese.

PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENCE. After the War, the company went back into operations and the immediate reconstruction of its warehouses. With the support of banks, Smith Bell began to import once again building materials such as steel and other types of construction materials. The main nucleus of Smith Bell's staff started to re-open its services along the lines of insurance, trading, import and export, and shipping. The Red V Coconut products were rehabilitated, and by 1945, the company found itself managing the Domestic Insurance Company of the Philippines.

Smith Bell also diversified into printing as it established the Philippine Business Forms, which was involved in packing, and printing of cartons and labels. It acquired the C.M. Lovsted & Co., which was involved in the trading of a wide range of industrial products and equipment.

In 1959, when a law was passed by Congress restricting domestic retail trade to Filipino citizens and corporations, Smith Bell became 60% Filipino-owned. This marked the gradual exit of the British as key executives of the company.

In the decades of the 60's, Smith Bell diversified further as it expanded its machinery and industrial products business to take advantage of the growth of diesel engines. It also put up the first Philippine factory to manufacture machine-woven carpets from local natural fibers.

In insurance, Smith Bell took controlling interest of Henry Hunter Bayne Adjustment Co. and expanded into all types of insurance adjustment work.

In 1969, when Smith Bell Travel and Tours was incorporated, it gave the tourism industry a boost. It pioneered the first international chartered flights from Cebu direct to Hongkong, Taipei and Tokyo, and entered into a joint venture with the Thomas Cook travel group.

As the 70's and 80's came, the company sold some of its investments and consolidated and positioned itself in its areas of expertise. Today, the Smith Bell Group of Companies offers a wide range of services such as insurance and re-insurance brokers, crewing agency and manning, vessel husbanding, tramp/tank and liner services, chartering brokers, heavy equipment suppliers, loan facilities and financing, import and export. It also offers claims settling, cargo surveys, hull and machinery surveys, surveillance and superintendence, petroleum and petrochemical surveys, hydrotesting and tank calibrations.

Backed by over one hundred and fifty years of experience and the expertise in its specialized fields and manned with a staff of competent and committed individuals, Smith Bell & Company, Inc. has established a reputation of professionalism and reliability. As it faces the daily challenges of an ever-changing world, Smith Bell continues to rely entirely on it unchanging tradition of Integrity and Excellence -- its changeless core amidst a changing world.

 

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