The embodiment of a Noucentista-era merchant, Jaime Torres Vendrell was born amid the vineyards of Sant Pere Molanta, a village in the heart of Penedès. Like many ambitious young men of his generation, he set his sights on the Americas. Torres did not want to live in the shadow of his family legacy, and the countless success stories of compatriots who had gone abroad inspired him. He wanted to define his destiny, forge his own path in life. He was young and driven.
He hadn't even turned sixteen when he decided to make his way in the world, literally and metaphorically. When he arrived at the Barcelona port, he tried to board a ship. He did everything he could to convince the captain and eventually succeeded. The destination: Havana, Cuba.
Wherever you go, you find your people. On the island, he soon befriended a Catalan merchant who gave in to the insistent and impetuous young man and offered him a job, a place to sleep and a weekly wage. It wasn't much, but it was enough.
Torres slept under the counter where he served customers during the day, which meant he could save on rent and set aside a few additional pesos. This, along with hard work, is how he managed to scrape together 500 pesos, a very respectable amount at the time. There was so much he could do with the money!
Illustration of Jaime Torres Vendrell at work in Havana (1860)
Times were changing. It was a tumultuous era. Torres was well aware of this and began reading articles published in the United States that talked about new inventions, marvels of science... and something even more important: the large-scale exploration of a new product that would change the way the world moved: oil.
Black gold, they called it. It revolutionized the world, and young Torres saw his opportunity. In a decision both naive and ambitious—one could call it a lucky whim—Jaime Torres sent his 500 pesos to a US company in exchange for whatever oil it would buy. His intention was to distribute the oil on the island where it was still an unknown commodity. This characteristically youthful all-or-nothing move proved decisive to Torres's future:
The impulsiveness of the letter amused the managers of the American oil company. Clearly this was not the usual way of finding sales agents... Where were the letters of credit? Who was this kid?
Jaime Torres Vendrell (1839-1904). First generation of Familia Torres
But for some reason, Torres's sincerity and candor inspired trust. The oil arrived, along with all kinds of resources for its distribution. In less than five years’ time, Jaime Torres had millions of pesos, commercial credit, and a fully operational, successful business. An unusually restless man, he decided to diversify ships, wines, carbide, textiles, even a publishing venture, Diario del Comercio, headed by his friend Luis Almerich.
In his new role as a businessman, he became an astute observer who was naturally inclined to see things from an objective perspective. His innate survival instinct told Jaime Torres that the oil bubble was about to burst: the number of oil and natural gas distributors had skyrocketed, and it was very difficult to compete for a slice of the ever-shrinking pie. Torres didn't hesitate. He wasn't about to lose everything he had achieved, and so he liquidated the company and left with 40,000 pesos. His entire fortune.
The idea of going home and embarking on the project that would change the course of Familia Torres's history was about to become a reality. The year was 1870.