Chronicled in historical accounts, photographs, novels, and newspapers, the stockyards were the icon and essence of 1890’s Chicago – Hog butcher for the world The hub of the new transnational railroad system, the stockyards were where animals – cattle, sheep, pigs – were brought to wait to be slaughtered in of the great meat processing plants, named after the families whose fortunes they made. The stockyards became themselves the symbol of the engine of economic growth and its excesses.
The meat packing companies were owned by families whose names and battles with labor would be associated with the city for generations. The stockyards and the railroads were intertwined in physical fact and in social and cultural development. Union fights and strikes began and ended there. Then there was the equally legendary smell, and the runoff.
Tens of thousands of skilled and unskilled immigrants from rural and small town America, from Europe, Germany, Russia, and Italy came to work in the stockyards. The neighborhoods where the immigrants came – usually to stay first with an earlier arriving friend or relative – were named after the countries they came from, or called ‘The Back of the Yards.’
For generations of workers and owners -- and the thousands of people providing goods and services supported by them — the stockyards were the physical and cultural heart of Chicago.
Next: Lives of Children