José Aguirre was born in the port area of Valencia known as ‘El Grao’ in 1842.
José’s father was Basque, and José was sent at the age of 18 to Marseilles to learn French, the Internet being still a long way around the corner.
His stay in France was cut short by his father’s death and he had to take over the family business in the shipping industry, which was going through hard times.
Consequently, on receiving an inheritance from n uncle, in 1863 he went to try his luck in Cuba, still part of the Spanish Empire at the time.
Despite his heavy work load he found time to marry two wives, sequentially, and to have 11 children.
But to speak of José Aguirre is to speak of oranges, the export of which made his name.
The legend tells that two travelling musicians from France, the Fournier brothers, were impressed by the orange groves around Alzira, and of the quality of the fruit. As oranges were rare in France at the time, they proposed a joint venture with Aguirre to export them to France.
Aguirre took a boatload to Marseilles on one of the new steamboats, and the reception was so favourable that they repeated the adventure in Holland and the UK. Mandarins and melons soon followed, as did onions, although onions are not a fruit as you probably noticed.
The business was continued by Aguirre’s son and grandson and even today ‘Tránsitos Aguirre’ continues functioning in Avenida del Puerto.
His idea of wrapping individual fruits in silk paper was revolutionary, and is still used today.
José died in 1920, and in 2009 a statue was erected in his honour in the port and a street, where the local market stands, bears his name.