The Slaughterhouse

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  • Topic: Meat processing, Meat packing industry, Meatpacking
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The Slaughterhouse

Student #: 196012
HST 340 American Social History
Sean Christy
March 5, 2009

The Slaughterhouse
Catalyst
“The Jungle” (Sinclair, 1946) peaked my interest in how meat was processed, stored, and shipped to consumers. Initially Sinclair was paid to write an expose for a socialist magazine to find incriminating information on the establishment The Durham Slaughterhouse in particular had drawn attention because its employees had went on a strike, due to bad conditions where the pay did not match the skills or risk that were taken. Subsequently, the employees did not gain anything from the strike, but the exposure opened the eyes of the public. Sinclair infiltrated the slaughterhouse and wrote an article that was so thought provoking to the American public that he turned the expose into a book. Sinclair, who was a socialist, began his quest because he wanted to expose the economic depression that the slaughterhouse had allowed its employees to sink into. While the owners were getting richer the employees were getting poorer everyday. The employees had no stake in the company but their lives were being shortened due to the accidents and strenuous task that was taking place. The poverty level of the workers that were employed at the slaughterhouse was the basis of all the events that manifested beginning with the strike. However, Sinclair himself said that “he had taken aim at America’s heart and bit instead its stomach. Evidently the empty stomachs of the immigrants that were portrayed in the book mattered less to the public than its own, which it feared might be filled with packing-house wastes mixed with food” (Sinclair 1946). People were informed of the travesty that was happening to the employees however, the detail of the manufacturing process was what was most interesting. This started an avalanche of concern, not for the employees but for the process in which their food was handled. Historical Information

The beginning of meat processing is very interesting because humans have always slaughtered animals for consumption in order to survive. Most farm families that slaughtered its own stock, dry-cured or pickled the meat under the supervision of the housewife. Better cuts of ham, bacon, and dried beef were traded for sugar and coffee at country stores that in turn sent the meat to the city markets. As cities grew, some farmers drove live hogs and cattle to urban slaughterhouses, which sold the carcasses to butchers and households. The first half of the nineteenth century most meat was prepared for family or local consumption immediately after slaughter. Soon after meat increasingly was preserved and packed in containers for transportation and sale in urban and foreign markets. By 1900 meatpacking was the largest industry in the United States.

At one time it was reported in a Chicago newspaper that there were twenty-five thousand gates that gave brokers, and others access to approximately ten thousand head of cattle, hogs and half as many sheep were brought everyday. At the end of each day all pens were emptied, taken to the killing floor; slaughtered and butchered then shipped out on trains. There were eight to ten million live creatures turned into food every year. The stock yards and packing houses were between two sets of train tracks and the entire process was similar to a revolving door. Trains came and went all night and by morning the stock yards were filled again for business to start all over again. Commercial Marketing

Commercial packing began when European retailers sought meat supplies for long sea voyages and plantation owners needed meats to feed their slave work force. The first commercial packer in Cincinnati opened in 1818, and by the 1830’s the city was the first major meatpacking center. Its location on the Ohio River facilitated trade with the East Coast and down the Mississippi River. The city had winter temperatures cold enough to...
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