The city is close to the border with Argentina and about 160 kilometres (99 mi) due north of Buenos Aires, and 309 kilometres (192 mi) north-west from Montevideo, Uruguay's capital.
The town was founded as 'Villa Independencia' by Decree of 16 April 1859. It became capital of the Department of Río Negro on 7 July 1860 by the Act of Ley Nº 1.475 and its status was elevated to "Ciudad" (city) on 16 July 1900 by the Act of Ley Nº 2.656. Its current name, meaning "Friar Benedict", is derived from a reclusive priest.
Historically, Fray Bentos' main industry has been meat processing. An industrial plant owned by the Societe de Fray Bentos Giebert & Cie., the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, was founded there in 1863. It was closed in 1979, after 117 years in operation. A local history museum opened on the site in March 2005.
Fray Bentos was the location of the crash of Austral Flight 2553, in which 74 people were killed (69 passengers and 5 crew) on October 10, 1997.
In 2011 Fray Bentos had a population of 24,406.
Source: Instituto Nacional de Estadística de Uruguay
In 1899 a company called "Anglo", which originated from Lemco, began making corned beef there, which was sold as "Fray Bentos Corned Beef" in the UK. Fifty years later, the Fray Bentos company diversified into soups, meatballs and tinned fruit. During the 1990s the focus shifted to pies and puddings and Fray Bentos was taken over by the Campbell Soup Company. However, in 2006, 'Campbells UK' was acquired by Premier Foods. The brand is now owned in the UK by Baxters, which manufactures the product range in Scotland. Additionally, the Campbell Soup Company manufactures and sells Fray Bentos branded steak and kidney pies in Australia.
In 2008, the Brazilian-owned Marfrig Group announced the re-opening of the Liebig factory and the resumption of export of meat products, though at a lower capacity than at the original factory.
Botnia S.A., a subsidiary of Finnish corporation Metsä-Botnia, has built a large cellulose factory in Fray Bentos to produce bleached eucalyptus pulp; production started in November 2007, and the first shipments were made in December 2007 from the overseas port of Nueva Palmira. Investment in the project was about 1 billion USD and the factory directly or indirectly employs about 8,000 people. The project, however, is not without its opponents. On 30 April 2005 about 40,000 Argentines from Entre Ríos, along with environmental groups from both countries, demonstrated at the bridge linking both countries; since then, around ten to fifteen Argentinians have been blocking the international bridge to put pressure on the Uruguayan government to stop production at the factory, claiming it will gravely pollute the Uruguay River. On 20 December 2005 a World Bank study concluded that the factory would not have a negative impact on the environment or tourism in either country. The paper mill started operating in November 2007 (see Pulp mill conflict between Argentina and Uruguay).
Fray Bentos has an Industrial Revolution Museum in the former meat processing factory of the Liebig Extract of Meat Company where thousands of people worked. When it was shut down, the opportunity was taken to create a unique museum, where the original machinery and social and cultural artefacts of the technological revolution in Fray Bentos could be shown to the world. The museum exhibits, for tourism and educational purposes, the machinery used in the meat and extract of meat process, the buildings, an 1893 Merryweather water pumping machine, a complete canning plant, a plant where the meat was cooked, a laboratory, etc.
It also has a museum for the artist Luis Alberto Solari, who was born in the city.
The Miguel Young Theatre is an important cultural landmark.
Fray Bentos has its own football league, the Liga Departamental de Fútbol de Río Negro, established in 1912, made up of 14 teams. Among the most notable are Fray Bentos Fútbol Club, Club Atlético Anglo and Laureles Fútbol Club.
The title character of Borges' short story "Funes el Memorioso" was from Fray Bentos.
The Office's David Brent thought Fray Bentos was the revolutionary leader of Cuba.Gastón Ramírez (2 December 1990), footballer
Lucas Torreira, (11 February 1996), footballer
Federico Elduayen June 25, 1977, footballer
Walter Pelletti (born 31 May 1966), former footballer
Luis Alberto Solari (October 17, 1918 - October 13, 1993), was a painter and engraver
Juan Manuel Tenuta (1924-2013), was an actor
Juan José Timón (18 November 1937 – 13 July 2001), cyclist
Villa Independencia Airport serves Fray Bentos; it has, however, no commercial air service.