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During the mid-nineteenth century, the increasing prominence of the meatpacking industry caused Chicago to be known as "The Great Bovine City of the World" and the "Porkopolis" of the United States. With the coming of the "second Industrial Revolution" in the 1880s, Americans ranked human progress in science and technology as among their highest aspirations. Advances in the preparation of pork products, namely advances in technology and organization of labor, symbolized this aspiration. According to environmental historian William Cronon, Chicagoans considered the Union Stockyards to be "the pinnacle of Chicago's social and economic achievement, the site, above all others, that made the city an icon of nineteenth century progress." However, this progress came at a great cost, as the shift toward mass industrialization created an industrial machine that de-humanized all aspects of labor.


1. Define terms such as stockyard, immigrant, Packingtown, and muckraker.

2. Describe at least three technological advances that furthered the early meatpacking industry in Chicago.

3. Compare the meatpacking industry in Chicago in the time before and after the Civil War, in terms of size and scope, technology, and labor practices.

Illinois Learning Standards

13.B. Know and apply concepts that describe the interaction between science, technology, and society.

16.A. Apply the skills of historical analysis and interpretation.

16.C. Understand events, trends, individuals, and movements shaping the history of Illinois, the United States, and other nations; understand the development of economic systems.


I. Introduction: Explain that this lesson will emphasize mass industrialization within an individual industry: the early meatpacking industry in Chicago.

A. Vocabulary and timeline activities:

1. Review the vocabulary and terms with students.

2. Briefly introduce the timeline of events.

B. Lecture: "The Industry in the Beginning"

1. In the 1830s and 1840s, drovers accompanied animals through crowded neighborhood streets until they reached the final destination of several small stockyards dispersed throughout the various districts of South Chicago.

2. One drover with two assistants herded seventy-five to one hundred cattle or several hundred hogs to market at one time. The drovers let the animals graze along the way, and at night the drovers set up camp at farms that made extra money boarding travelers.

3. Willard F. Myrick's small, privately owned stockyard (c. 1837) was typical. It was merely a fenced


area next to his boardinghouse, where hogs and cattle grazed before butchering. "The key attraction of these early yards was the hotel where drovers lodged and entertained themselves while completing their transactions," according to William Cronon. Many of the stockyards of the 1840s and 1850s showcased grand hotels and saloons where drovers could entertain themselves while bringing their livestock to market. It was a cultural marketplace where culture as well as animals and money changed hands.

4. Once the animals reached the market, the drovers stayed in Chicago to assist in the slaughtering and packing of the animals.

C. "Railroads, the Civil War, and New Technology"

1. Expansion of the railroad in the mid-1850s connected the stockyards.

2. Expansion of the railroad also brought about urban expansion. According to Cronon, "although most of the stockyards were initially located on prairie land just outside the built-up area of the city, they were soon surrounded by houses and factories that limited their expansion and cut off their original supply of hay and grazing land."

3. As a result, the risk of endangering the animals driven to market increased as the drovers herded hundreds of animals through crowded and busy city streets.

a. The Civil War expanded Chicago's role in the meatpacking industry when the Union army chose Chicago as the city to provide its meat provisions. Then, Chicago surpassed Cincinnati as the largest meatpacker in the United States.

b. Technological advances followed. The invention and implementation of the refrigerated rail car made it possible for the meatpacking industry to operate year-round. Previously, the industry was restricted to operation during the winter months because of the problem of keeping the meat chilled and preserved.

D. "Consolidation of the Industry: Construction of the Union Stockyards."

1. By the mid-1860s it was clear that drastic measures were required to meet the demands of Chicago's increasing role in the livestock industry. In spite of the railroad connections, expanding yards, and increased production, meatpacking remained decentralized.

2. In 1864 Chicago's nine largest railroads and members of the Chicago Pork Packers' Association proposed that a unified stockyard be constructed on a half-mile-square parcel of land south of the Chicago city limits.

3. On June 1, 1865, the construction of the Union Stockyards began, and the meatpacking industry entered a new phase in terms of its scale of operation. The unified stockyards concen-trated the city's livestock business at one location.

4. The Union Stockyards symbolized the vast expansion and enormity of the industrial growth of Chicago.

5. The Union Stockyards opened for business in 1865, and the five largest meatpackers of the time set up shop in the Union Stockyards. They dominated the industry within a few years. Philip Armour and Gustavus Swift were "captains of industry" admired by


the American public for creating large industrial empires that increased production. Specifically, "Five hundred animal pens covering 60 acres of land were used to house the livestock, and the whole operation could accommodate 21,000 head of cattle, 75,000 hogs, 22,000 sheep, and 200 horses at one time," according to Cronon.

6. At the same time, the Union Stockyards symbolized the increasing corporate control of American industry that was beginning to take shape.

E. "The Organization of Labor in the Stockyards"

1. "Until the end of the Civil War, hogs were killed the "old-fashioned" way—stunned with a hammer, their throats slit in the killing pen and then dragged to the scalding tubs. In 1866 Windsor Leland invented a "slaughtering machine" that was a steam-powered wheel that raised the live hog by its hind leg and attached the animal to an elevated rail," according to Wade.

2. The elevated rails carried the carcasses to another room with the "disassembly line." Each man in the disassembly line participated in some minute task of gutting and dissecting the carcass. Carcasses were sent to the chilling rooms to be frozen. The entrails and scraps were saved for different purposes. Nothing was wasted in the factories.

3. Immigrant males were the main source of labor in the stockyards. Their work was methodical and organized, and working conditions were as horrible as they were unsafe.

4. Show the photographs depicting labor practices in the stockyards (Handout 1). Divide students into four groups, and have each group analyze one photograph. Each student should complete the photograph guide.

F. Literature and History. An American Labor Classic: Immigrant Workers in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906). The novel tells the story of Jurgis, a Lithuanian immigrant in America looking for work in the stockyards of "Packingtown."

1. Sinclair, a muckraking journalist, wrote the novel as part of an assignment for a Socialist newspaper, Appeal to Reason.

2. Although The Jungle portrays the story of fictional characters, it is largely based on the actual experiences of immigrants living and working in the stockyards. As part of his research for the novel, Sinclair lived alongside the immigrants of "Packingtown" for seven weeks, documenting all aspects of their life and work.

3. Divide students into six groups and have each group read an excerpt about "Packingtown" from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Have each group report to the class about what they read. Discuss the content of the excerpts as a class (Handout 2).

4. Through the readings, students should see the transformation of the immigrants as they became disenchanted with their lives in America. Emphasize the highly exploitative nature of labor in the stockyards.

5. The first immigrants arrived in "Packingtown" during the 1850s. They were mostly Irish and German. In the 1870s and 1880s, Bohemians and Poles arrived. Beginning in the 1890s, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Russians arrived.

6. Immigrants unable to speak English upon their arrival in Chicago, were often exploited by plant managers. Working in the stockyards was perhaps the most menial, filthy, and disgusting work of all the industries, but the immigrants were happy to receive any chance to earn a living. They did not earn much. The 1884 Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that workers of cured and packed meat industries had a "yearly net profit of $127."

7. Usually trapped within the workings of a huge corporate structure, the immigrants were unable to seek other occupations. Because they were part of a large pool of unskilled laborers, other newcomers were always ready to take their job. Employers, therefore, manipulated the immigrants into accepting wage cuts, longer hours, and horrible working conditions.


Handout 1

Directions: Look at the photo provided and complete the following sections. Answer the questions as thoroughly as possible.

I. Getting Started: Listing "The Basics"

A. Title/Caption of photo

B. Type of photo

C. Source

II. Looking At The Photo

A. Where was this photograph taken?

B. Can you date the photo or place it into a general period or sequence of events?

C. What types of people are shown in the photograph?

D. What are the people shown in the photograph doing?

III. Interpreting The Photo

What does the photo tell you:

1. About labor in the stockyards?

2. About the workers in the stockyards?

3. About the Industrial Revolution?


Handout 1 continued

Hogs being scalded before scraping at a Swift and Company plant, 1905.
Source: Library of Congress


Handout 1 continued

Postmortem inspection, 1906. Source: Library of Congress



Group #1

Excerpt #1: 'They stood there while the sun went down upon this scene, and the sky in the west turned blood-red, and the tops of the houses shone like fire. Jurgis and Ona were not thinking of the sunset, however- their backs were turned to it, and all their thoughts were of Packingtown, which they could see so plainly in the distance. The line of buildings stood clear-cut and black against the sky; here and there out of the mass rose the great chimneys, with the river of smoke streaming away to the end of the world .... To those who stood watching while the darkness swallowed it up, it seemed a dream of wonder, with its tale of human energy, of things being done, of employment for thousands upon thousand of men, of opportunity and freedom, of life and love and joy. When they came away, arm in arm, Jurgis was saying, Tomorrow I shall go there and find a job!'" (p. 29)

Group #2

Excerpt #2: "He was provided with a stiff besom, such as is used by street sweepers, and it was his place to follow down the line the man who drew out the smoking entrails from the carcass of the steer; this mass was to swept into a trap, which was then closed, so that no one might slip into it.... It was a sweltering day in July, and the place ran with steaming hot blood- one waded in it on the floor. The stench was almost overpowering, but to Jurgis it was nothing. His whole soul was dancing with joy- he was at work at last! He was at work earning money! All day long he was figuring to himself. He was paid the fabulous sum of seventeen and a half cents an hour, and as it proved a rush day and he worked until nearly seven o'clock in the evening, he had earned more than a dollar and half in a single day!" (p. 41)

Group #3

Excerpt #3: "One curious thing he had noticed, the very first day, in his profession of shoveling of guts; which was the sharp tick of the floor bosses wherever there chanced to come a "slunk" calf. Any man who knows anything about butchering knows that the flesh of a cow that is about to calve, or has just calved, is not fit for food. A good many of these came every day to the packinghouses ... whoever noticed it [the "slunk calf"] would tell the boss, and the boss would start up a conversation with the government inspector, and the two would stroll away. So in a trice the carcass of the cow would be cleaned out, and the entrails would have vanished; it was Jurgis' task to slide them into the trap, calves and all, and on the floor below they took out these "slunk" calves, and butchered them for meant, and used even the skins of them." (p. 62)

Group #4

Excerpt #4; "Then, too, a still more dreadful thing happened to him; he worked in a place where his feet were soaked in chemicals, and it was not long before they had eaten through his new boots. Then sores began to break out on his feet, and grew worse and worse. Whether it was that his blood was bad, or there had been a cut, he could not say.... The sores would never heal- in the end his toes would drop off, if he did not quit." (p. 76)

Group #5

Excerpt #5: 'There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from the leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats." (pp. 134-5).

Group #6

Excerpt #6: 'That day they had killed about four thousand cattle, and these cattle had come in freight trains from far states, and some of them had got hurt. There were some with broken legs, and some with gored sides; there were some that had died, from what cause no one could say; and they were all to be disposed of, here in darkness and silence .... It took a couple of hours to get them out of the way, and in the end Jurgis saw them go into the chilling rooms with the rest of the meat, being carefully scattered here and there so that they could not be identified. When he came home that night he was in a very somber mood, having begun to see at last how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith in America." (pp. 61-2).

All excerpts taken from the 1981 edition of The Jungle. New York Bantam Books.



Directions: Choose one of the following quotes and write a two-page essay explaining its meaning and significance. Use as many examples as possible to substantiate your analysis.

Quote #1 "Many saw [the stockyards as] the pinnacle of Chicago's social and economic achievement, the site, above all others, that made the city an icon of nineteenth-century progress."

William Cronin, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, p. 207.

Quote #2 ". . .the woman worked so fast that the eye could literally not follow her, and there was only a mist of motion, and tangle after tangle of sausages appearing. . . . the woman did not go on; she stayed right there, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, twisting sausage links and racing with death. It was piecework, and she was apt to have a family to keep alive; and stern and ruthless economic laws had arranged it that she could only do this by working as she did..."

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, pp. 132-133.


Handout 2 continued

Vocabulary and Terms You Should Know For This Lesson

Chicago's Pride: What the meatpackers were often called by those who saw the meatpacking industry as an icon of industrial progress

Disassembly Line: Refers to the systematic method of gutting and dissecting the carcass; each man in line was responsible for performing a small task that contributed to the end result

Drover: A person who drives cattle or sheep to market

Immigrant: A person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence

The Jungle: Muckraking novel written by Upton Sinclair in 1906 about the experiences of immigrant workers in the filth of the Chicago stockyards

Muckraker: Someone who searches and exposes real or alleged corruption, scandal, or the like, especially in politics

Packingtown: Refers to the area west of the Union Stockyards that contained more than thirty large packinghouses at the turn of the nineteenth century

Stockyard: An enclosure with pens, sheds, etc., connected with a slaughterhouse, railroad, market, etc., for the temporary housing of livestock

Timeline of Events

1836: Myrick's small stockyard next to boardinghouse

1850s: Railroad expansion orients small stockyards

1857: Icehouses built in Chicago; meatpacking becomes a year-round industry

1859: Chicago's pork output begins to grow

1861: Civil War Begins; Chicago provides meat provisions for the Union army; Chicago surpasses Cincinnati as the largest pork producer in the United States

1865: Civil War Ends; Union Stockyards built; Town of Lake incorporated

1866: Windsor Leland invents the slaughtering machine

1868: George Hammond invents the refrigerated rail car

1871: Great Fire in Chicago; stockyards are undamaged

1906: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is published


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