Union Stock Yards: Wikis


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For information about the facilities in South Omaha, Nebraska, see Union Stockyards (Omaha).
Union Stock Yards, 1947

The Union Stock Yard & Transit Co., or The Yards, was the name of the meatpacking district in Chicago for over a century starting in 1865. The district was operated by a group of railroad companies that acquired swampland to a centralized processing area. It operated in the New City community area of Chicago, Illinois for 106 years,[1] helping the city become known as "hog butcher for the world" and the center of the American meat packing industry for decades.[2]

The stockyards became the focal point of the rise of some of the earliest international companies. These companies refined novel industrial innovations and influenced financial markets. Both the rise and fall of the district owe their fortunes to the evolution of transportation services and technology in America. The stockyards have become an integral part of the popular culture of Chicago's history.

From the Civil War until the 1920s and peaking in 1924, more meat was processed in Chicago than in any other place in the world.[3] Construction began in June 1865 with an opening on Christmas Day in 1865. The Yards closed at midnight on Friday, July 30, 1971 after several decades of decline during the decentralization of the meat packing industry. The Union Stock Yard Gate was designated a Chicago Landmark on February 24, 1972[4] and a National Historic Landmark on May 29, 1981.[5][6]



The Union Stock Yards in Chicago in 1878

Before construction, tavern owners provided pastures and care for cattle herds waiting to be sold. With the spreading service of railroads, stock yards were created in and around the city.[7] In 1848, small stockyards were scattered throughout the city along various rail lines.[8] There was a confluence of reasons necessitating consolidation of the stockyards: westward expansion of railroads, causing great commercial growth in a Chicago that evolved into a major railroad center; the Mississippi River blockade during the Civil War that closed the north-south river trade route; the influx of meat packers and livestock to Chicago.[8] To consolidate operations, the Union Stock Yards were built on swampland south of the city. A consortium of 9 railroad companies (hence the "Union" name) acquired a 320-acre (1.3 km2) swampland area in southwest Chicago for $100,000 in 1864.[9] The stockyards were connected to the city's main rail lines by 15 miles (24 km) of track.[9] Eventually, the 375-acre (1.52 km2) site had 2300 separate livestock pens in addition to hotels, saloons, restaurants, and offices for merchants and brokers.[10] Led by Timothy Blackstone, a founder and the first president of the Union Stock Yards and Transit Company, "The Yards" experienced tremendous growth. Processing two million animals yearly by 1870, the number had risen to nine million by 1890. Between 1865 and 1900, approximately 400 million livestock were butchered within the confines of the Yards.[11] By the turn of the century the stock yards employed 25,000 people and produced 82 percent of the domestic meat consumption.[12] In 1921, the stock yards employed 40,000 people.[13] Two thousand of these worked directly for the Union Stock Yard & Transit Co. and the rest worked for companies such as meatpackers who had plants in the stockyards.[11] By 1900, the 475-acre (1.92 km2) stock yard contained 50 miles (80 km) of road, and had 130 miles (210 km) of track along its perimeter.[9] At its largest size, The Yards covered nearly a square mile of land, from Halsted Street to Ashland Avenue and from 39th (now Pershing Rd.) to 47th Streets.[4][7]

At one time, 500,000 gallons a day of Chicago River water was pumped into the stock yards. So much stock yard waste drained into the South Fork of the river that it came to bear the name Bubbly Creek due to the gaseous products of decomposition.[9] The creek bubbles to this day.[14] When the City permanently reversed the flow of the Chicago River in 1900, the intent was to prevent the Stock Yards' waste products along with other sewage from flowing into Lake Michigan and contaminating the City's drinking water.[13]

The meatpacking district was served between 1908 and 1957 by a short Chicago 'L' line with several stops, devoted primarily to the daily transport of thousands of workers and even tourists to the site. The line was constructed when the City of Chicago forced the removal of surface trackage on 40th Street.[15]


Effect on industry

The size and scale of the stockyards, along with technological advancements in rail transport and refrigeration, allowed for the creation of some of America's first truly global companies led by entrepreneurs such as Gustavus Franklin Swift and Philip Danforth Armour. The mechanized process with its killing wheel and conveyors helped inspire the automobile assembly line. In addition, hedging transactions by the stockyard companies was pivotal in the establishment and growth of the Chicago-based commodity exchanges and futures markets.[16]

Numerous meatpacking companies were concentrated near the yards, including Armour, Swift, Morris, and Hammond.[12] Eventually, meatpacking byproduct manufacturing of leather, soap, fertilizer, glue, pharmaceuticals, imitation ivory, gelatin, shoe polish, buttons, perfume, and violin strings prospered in the neighborhood.[12]

Next to the Union Stock Yards, the International Amphitheatre building was built on Halsted Street in the 1930s, originally to hold the International Livestock Exhibition. However, the International Amphitheatre became a venue for many events and its use continued for years after the stock yards closed in 1971.[17]


The Chicago Union Stock Yards Fire started on December 22, 1910, destroying $400,000 of property and killing twenty-one firemen, including the Fire Marshal James J. Horan. Fifty engine companies and seven hook and ladder companies fought the fire until it was declared extinguished by Chief Seyferlich on December 23.[18] In 2004, a memorial to all Chicago firefighters who have died in the line of duty was erected at the location of the 1910 Stock Yards fire.

Decline and current use

The Union Stock Yards Livestock Pens, 1880

The prosperity of the stockyards was due to both the concentration of railroads and the evolution of refrigerated railroad cars.[19] Its decline was due to further advances in post-World War II transportation and distribution. Direct sales of livestock from breeders to packers, facilitated by advancement in interstate trucking, made it cheaper to slaughter animals where they were raised and excluded the intermediary stockyards.[1][11] At first, the major meatpacking companies resisted change, but Swift and Armour both surrendered and vacated their plants in the Yards in the 1950s.[11]

In 1971, the area bounded by Pershing Road, Ashland, Halsted, and 47th Street became The Stockyards Industrial Park. The neighborhood to the west and south of the industrial park is still known as Back of the Yards, and is still home to a thriving immigrant population.


A remnant of the Union Stock Yard Gate still arches over Exchange Avenue, next to the firefighters' memorial, and can be seen by those driving along Halsted Street. This limestone gate, marking the entrance to the stockyards, survives as one of the few relics of Chicago's heritage of livestock and meatpacking. The steer head over the central arch is thought to represent "Sherman," a prize-winning bull named after John B. Sherman, a founder of the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company.[4] The gate is a designated U.S. National Historic Landmark.

In popular culture

In 1906 Upton Sinclair published The Jungle, uncovering the horrid conditions in the stock yards at the turn of the 20th century. The stockyards are referred to in Carl Sandburg's poem Chicago: "proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation."[2] Frank Sinatra mentioned the yards in his 1964 song "My Kind of Town," and the stockyards receive a mention in the opening chapter of Thomas Pynchon's novel Against the Day. The Skip James song "Hard Times Killing floor blues" refers to the nickname of the slaughter part of the stockyards during the great depression in the 1930s. The Yards were a major tourist stop, with visitors such as Rudyard Kipling, Paul Bourget and Sarah Bernhardt.

See also


  1. ^ a b Pacyga, Dominic (2005). "Union Stock Yard". Chicago Historical Society. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/2218.html. Retrieved March 7, 2007.  
  2. ^ a b Sandburg, Carl (1916). Chicago "1. Chicago". Bartleby.com. http://www.bartleby.com/165/1.html Chicago. Retrieved 2009-06-15.  
  3. ^ Wade, Louise Carroll (2004). Grossman, James R., Ann Durkin Keating and Janice L. Ruff. ed. Meatpacking. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31015-9. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/804.html.  
  4. ^ a b c "Chicago Landmarks". Chicago Landmarks. http://www.ci.chi.il.us/Landmarks/U/UnionStock.html. Retrieved March 6, 2007.  
  5. ^ "National Historic Landmarks Survey: Listing of National Historic Landmarks by State: Illinois" (PDF). http://www.cr.nps.gov/nhl/designations/Lists/IL01.pdf. Retrieved March 7, 2007.  
  6. ^ "Old Stone Gate, Chicago Union Stockyards". National Park Service. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceID=1223&resourceType=Structure. Retrieved March 30, 2007.  
  7. ^ a b "1865 Chicago Union Stock Yard Completed". Chicago Public Library. 1997. http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/timeline/stockyard.html. Retrieved March 6, 2007.  
  8. ^ a b "The Birth of the Chicago Union Stock Yards". Chicago Historical Society. 2001. http://www.chicagohs.org/history/stock.html. Retrieved March 9, 2007.  
  9. ^ a b c d "The Birth of the Chicago Union Stock Yards". Chicago Historical Society. 2001. http://www.chicagohs.org/history/stockyard/stock1.html. Retrieved March 9, 2007.  
  10. ^ "Union Stock Yards". University of Chicago. http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/spcl/centcat/city/city_img62.html. Retrieved March 7, 2007.  
  11. ^ a b c d Wilson, Mark R. (2004). Grossman, James R., Ann Durkin Keating and Janice L. Ruff. ed. Union Stock Yard & Transit Co.. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31015-9. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/2883.html.  
  12. ^ a b c "Meatpacking Technology". Chicago Historical Society. 2001. http://www.chicagohs.org/history/stockyard/stock2.html. Retrieved March 9, 2007.  
  13. ^ a b "1865 Chicago Stories". Chicago Public Library. http://www.wttw.com/main.taf?p=1,7,1,1,49. Retrieved March 6, 2007.  
  14. ^ Solzman, David M. (1998). The Chicago River: An Illustrated History and Guide to the River and its Waterways. Chicago: Loyola Press. pp. 226–227. ISBN 0-8294-1023-6.  
  15. ^ "Stock Yards branch". Chicago "L".org. http://www.chicago-l.org/operations/lines/stockyards.html. Retrieved March 22, 2007.  
  16. ^ "Chicago & The World: America in 1889: The Gilded Age". Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. http://www.auditoriumtheatre.org/wb/pages/home/education/chicagos-landmark-stage/chicago-the-world.php. Retrieved 2009-06-15.  
  17. ^ Encyclopedia of Chicago-International Amphitheater
  18. ^ "1910, December 22–23: Chicago Union Stock Yards Fire". Chicago Public Library. 1996. http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/disasters/stockyards_fire.html. Retrieved March 6, 2007.  
  19. ^ Barrett, James R. (2005). "Back of the Yards". Chicago Historical Society. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/99.html. Retrieved March 9, 2007.  


  • Anderson, John. "'Hog butcher for the world' opens shop." Chicago Tribune, January 30, 1997, Chicago ed.: sec. 2, p. 2.
  • Barrett, James R. Work and. 3rd ed. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1982.
  • Grant, W. Jos. Illustrated History of the Union Stockyards. Chicago, 1901.
  • Halpern, Rick. Down on the Killing Floor: Black and White Workers in Chicago's Packinghouses, 1904–54. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997.
  • Hirsch, Susan, and Robert I. Goler. A City Comes of Age: Chicago in the 1890s. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1990.
  • Holt, Glen E., and Dominic A. Pacyga. Chicago: A Historical Guide to the Neighborhoods: the Loop and South Side. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1979.
  • Jablonsky, Thomas J. Pride in the Jungle: Community and Everyday Life in Back of the Yards Chicago. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.
  • Liste, J. G., and George Schoettle. Union Stockyards Fire Photo Album. CHS: 1934.
  • Mahoney, Olivia. Go West! Chicago and American Expansion. Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1999.
  • Pacyga, Dominic. Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago: Workers on the South Side, 1880–1922. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1991.
  • Pacyga, Dominic, and Ellen Skerrett. Chicago: City of Neighborhoods. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1986.
  • Parkhurst, William. History of the Yards, 1865–1953. Chicago, 1953.
  • Rice, William. "City creates nation's livestock center." Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1997, Chicago ed.: sec. 7, p. 7b.
  • Skaggs, Jimmy. Prime Cut: Livestock Raising and Meatpacking in the U.S. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1986.
  • Slayton, Robert A. Back of the Yards: The Making of a Local Democracy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986.
  • Street, Paul. "Packinghouse Blues." Chicago History 18, no. 3 (1989): 68–85.
  • "Bibliography". Chicago Historical Society. 2001. http://www.chicagohs.org/history/stockyard/stkbibli.html. Retrieved March 6, 2007.  
  • Chicago (Ill.). Fire Dept. Report of the Fire Marshal. 1910. pp. 23–24.

External links


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