The Union Stockyards: Chicago’s Flag's Fifth Star

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  • Topic: Armour and Company, Chicago, Chicago Tribune
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  • Published : May 3, 2013
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Taylor Jemilo
Chicago History Final

The Union Stockyards: Chicago’s Fifth Star

Beginning in the early 1860s the way of life in America was beginning to change at a very rapid pace. With tensions in the country growing due to various political struggles, a Civil War was nearly inevitable. When a war finally did break out in April of 1861 resources and a way to move those resources was needed more than ever before. One of the most necessary resources, food, was scarce to soldiers because of the lack of technology available to ship it before it would perish. It was nearly impossible to be able to properly nourish soldiers throughout the war, and given those hardships ingenuity prevailed. To be able to properly feed all of the Union soldiers, Northerners looked for a place where food could be both produced and shipped limiting the amount of time the food would be in circulation and could thus expire. Because of its centralized location, Chicago already served the nation as an economic and trading epicenter. At the height of its economic power, Chicago was the perfect candidate to accept this challenge. In fact, many Chicagoans, including various tavern and deli owners, had ideas of massive stockyards even before they were necessary but did not have the means to make their ideas a reality. Because of the lack of technology, shop-keeps usually had to slaughter their animals on sight, which was tedious and very expensive. Out of necessity from the armed forces and desire by the people the Union Stockyards were born on the lower Southwest side of Chicago. The Union Stockyards of Chicago are deserving of a spot on Chicago’s flag as a fifth star because for more than a century between the 1860s and 1970s they served as a focal point of the city bringing industrialization and business opportunities, uncountable invaluable innovations as well as serving as a staple of daily life in Chicago at the time.

With an enormous railroad business already prevalent in Chicago, once the stockyards sprung up they would quickly begin to grow in size and grandeur opening up much business opportunity for the already industrializing area of Chicago. Initially, nine different small companies with similar goals bought the property that the Union Stockyards took ground on in a joint effort to make the people’s dream possible.[i] The companies together finalized the purchase in 1864 securing roughly 320 acres of land on the Southwest side of Chicago for about $100,000.[ii] The small companies did not have a use for all of the land that they purchased but they did see a lot of potential in the business they were investing in. When the American Civil War struck the nation in 1864 the land was finally needed and was thus put into use. When the already owned land began filling up, investors and business owners increased the size of the yards. By 1910 the Union Stockyards had grown to an astonishing 500 acres.[iii] With the rapid growth and unparalleled amount of success that the stockyards acquired it is apparent that the meat industry was very lucrative allowing for the residents of Chicago to sow the benefits of the massive amounts of profit available. With recognition of the thriving business contained within the stockyards, business owners were successfully able to increase production and efficiency with the implementation of railroad track and paved road inside of the yards. Nearly 130 miles of railroad track was put inside of and around the edges of the stockyards to increase the rate at which products could be loaded, unloaded, and shipped.[iv] To help for a better flow of workers and a more organized system of movement within in the yards about 50 miles of paved road was installed on the premises of the stockyards, which was revolutionary for the time period.[v] The use of new technology and operations to industrialize and advance shows that the meat business was indeed a major priority to many Chicagoans. Because...
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