La Semeuse Oil Mill – History of La Semeuse

A little reminder:

On July 7, 1900, a grocery store specializing in colonial foods and oils was entered in the trade register under the company name “M. & N. Bloch” (named after the founder Marc & his brother Nathan). Originally located at rue du Marché 1 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, it moved in November 1905 to rue du Commerce 7 in larger premises to support the development of the business.

Grocery items were quickly abandoned in favor of peanut oil.

The importation and distribution of oil thus gave rhythm to the life of the young company, which for a few more years would be called “HUILERIE LA SEMEUSE”.

Storage area at Rue du Commerce / Filling the cans

The success of LA SEMEUSE peanut oil

Did you know? La Semeuse founder Marc Bloch (1877-1916) was the first to introduce Marseille oil and soap to the Neuchâtel mountains.

The Context of the Time

At this time, people cook with food preparations made with lard or with other fats, such as goose fat or kidney fat. The Israelites obviously do not cook with lard, but with goose fat.

Maybe some animal fats are scarce at this time? In any case, Marc Bloch is adopting a pioneering behavior in a very trendy field today. He sets out in search of fat that is plant-based, rather than animal, and above all that does not go rancid.

A visionary, Marc Bloch thinks about it, gets information and selects Huileries Maurel & H. Prom & Maurel Frères in Marseille, a company that no longer exists.

The house was a major player in the peanut chain and in trade between Africa and France. In Marseille, peanuts arrived from Senegal, a former French colony. They were ground, then turned into flour. This flour thus obtained was placed in flat bags (baskets) and pressed. The oil was leaking. There remained the cakes, still fatty, which were mainly given to the cattle.

The oil sold by LA SEMEUSE was a very good quality oil. It was of course not chemically extracted, but pressed in the old fashioned way. A pressed oil was fatter, which was a guarantee of longevity. Otherwise it goes rancid.

Marc Bloch will thus develop this new niche and go from time to time to Marseille. He also introduced Marseille soap to the mountains of Neuchâtel, in particular “Fer à Cheval”, namely 400g and 500g cube breads. He stores them in a pyramid in the upper room, so that the soap dries. The first advertisements relate to the two new products: Marseille oil and soap.

La Semeuse oil mill advertisement from 1915

In 1906, Marc and Nathan Bloch separated. Nathan founded a competing oil mill “La Gauloise” in La Chaux-de-Fonds. In the same years (between 1900-1910), many other oil mills were founded, but all of them will close after a few years… Only LA SEMEUSE will survive and hold out through the years…

The company will have employed up to 15 people. From 1910, and despite the terrible break that the First World War will mark with the death of the founder in 1916, LA SEMEUSE will experience great development until the Second World War.

Oil Conditioning

The oil arrived in 200-liter barrels, per wagon (up to one wagon per month in the years 28-30) from Marseille to La Chaux-de-Fonds station. The oil was pumped (with a hand pump) to store it in large circular tanks. It was sold in small 5 liter cans.

Unloading platform at the CFF station

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