Jul 19, 2020

The Stockyards


The Union Stock Yard & Transit Co., or "The Yards," was the meatpacking district in Chicago for more than a century, starting in 1865. The district was operated by a group of railroad companies that acquired swampland and turned it into a centralized processing area. By the 1890s, the railroad money behind the Union Stockyards was Vanderbilt's money. The Union Stockyards operated in the New City community area for 106 years, helping Chicago become known as "hog butcher to the world," coined by poet Carl Sandburg, and the center of the American meatpacking industry for decades.

It was called "Union" because seven separate stockyards contributed the $1.5 million it took to build enough pens to house 100,000 hogs and 10,000 head of cattle. Priding itself as an "open, free, public market," the Stock Yards housed more than 1 billion animals in the 105 years it operated. This was significant because in its early years, the Stock Yards was merely a way station for cattle intended to be marketed as fresh meat. After being sold in Chicago, live cattle would be shipped by rail in boxcars to New York, Boston and other eastern cities. (They were shipped live because meat, once killed and dressed, spoiled easily.)

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 end of the Civil War in 1865 until the end of the 1920s and peaking in 1924, more meat was processed in Chicago than in any other place in the world. 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 meatpacking industry.

In 1906 Upton Sinclair published "The Jungle," (in PDF) which uncovering the horrid conditions in the stockyards around the beginning of the 20th century.

Click to read the full story:


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. The Union Stock Yard Gate was designated a Chicago Landmark on February 24, 1972, and a National Historic Landmark on May 29, 1981.

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