Rascher, The Great Union Stock Yards of Chicago (ca. 1878)

The Union Stockyards were both a cause for and a result of the long term success of the railroads in Chicago. By 1854, Chicago was connected to ten different rail lines that stretched three thousand miles in almost all directions. The Civil War years caused the title of "Porkopolis,” hog capital of the world, to move from Cincinnati to Chicago. Chicago’s larger hinterland, longer winter packing season, and extensive rail network made it a more viable location for preserving pork and transporting it to Union troops. As the city's livestock trade grew and grew, railroads often found they were unable to expand their stockyards, for all of the surrounding land was owned and occupied by factories, stores, or residences. Sanitation issues abounded as many slaughterhouses and meat packers dumped offal into the Chicago river, and citizens complained about livestock being driven through the streets. Additionally, prospective buyers of livestock were unable to easily find the best prices and highest quality animals due to the fact that livestock were sold by separate dealers at separate locations all around the city. The Union Stock Yard, opened in 1865, was a joint effort by the railroads and meat packers to address many of these problems. Its location in the town of Lake was chosen for its proximity to the meat packers on the South Branch of the Chicago River, and because there was plenty of undeveloped land in the vicinity the stock yard could expand into in the future. As this 1878 view shows, all of the contributing railroads has access to this great market through jointly operated feeder lines. The slaughter-houses and packing houses shown in the middle distance on the view, were also conveniently positioned adjacent both to the pens and the rail lines. The consolidation of all of the various livestock dealers, meat packers, and railroads in one place was, of course, a convenience, but this consolidation also assured this closed group of dealers, processers, and transportation companies a major share of the market. The issue of sanitation was somewhat reduced as factories sprung up nearby that were able to use the blood and offal of the animals that were previously discarded as waste in the manufacture of dyes, glue, soap, and other products.

 

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Pacyga, Dominic A. Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Wade, Louise C. Chicago's Pride: Packingtown and Environs in the Nineteenth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Warren, Wilson J. Tied to the Great Packing Machine: The Midwest and Meatpacking. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007.

Charles Rascher, The Great Union Stock Yards of Chicago. Lithograph. Chicago: Walsh & Co., c. 1878. From Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division