Meat extract was invented by Baron Justus von Liebig, a German 19th-century organic chemist. Liebig specialized in chemistry and the classification of food and wrote a paper on how boiling meat destroys its nutritional value. Fueled by a desire to help feed the undernourished, in 1840 he developed a concentrated beef extract, Extractum carnis Liebig, to provide a cheap and nutritious meat substitute for those unable to afford the real thing. Unfortunately, it took 30 kg of meat to produce 1 kg of extract, making the extract too expensive.
Liebig went on to co-found the Liebig Extract of Meat Company (later Oxo), whose factory, opened in 1866 in Uruguay, took advantage of meat from cattle being raised for their hides—at one third the price of European meat.
In the 1870's, John Lawson Johnston invented 'Johnston's Fluid Beef', later renamed Bovril. Unlike Liebig's meat extract, Bovril also contained flavorings. It was manufactured in Argentina, which like Uruguay could provide cheap cattle.
Liebig and Bovril were important contributors to the beef industry in South America.
The only brand of pure meat extract today is Liebig Benelux's, which contains concentrated meat stock and 4% salt. The current formulation of the more-popular Bovril is 43% beef stock, 24% yeast extract, and 11.5% salt, and also contains spices and flavor enhancers.