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Swift & Co.

Until after the Civil War, fresh meat was not available except at slaughtering time, which usually took place during the winter months. People mainly ate cured pork. By the 1870s, centrally located Chicago became the hub of the meatpacking industry. Companies there used the railroads to deliver cattle and hogs from the West to their facilities. They invested in cold storage houses that held ice from the Great Lakes to run their businesses year-round.


In the 1880s, the widespread use of refrigerated railroad cars by Chicago meatpackers made it possible to ship fresh meat, especially beef, not only to large urban areas (where prices dropped), but also to small towns. Gustavus Swift led the industry in shipping fresh beef to eastern cities. He pictured a fanciful version of one of his refrigerated railroad cars on the cover of a trade card given out at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The card also includes a picture of Swift and Company’s packinghouses at the Union Stock Yards. By 1875 the area had become famous, prompting an editor in the Windy City to exclaim that visitors would not think of leaving Chicago without seeing the yards, as “the traveler would of visiting Egypt, and not the pyramids; Rome, and not the Coliseum; Pisa, and not the Leaning Tower.”

Above three details from: Swift and Company
Packers, Union Stock Yards,
Chicago, 1893.
Chromolithographed trade card, (7 x 5 7/8 in).



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