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Tied to the Great Packing Machine

The Midwest and Meatpacking

Wilson J. Warren

Publication Year: 2007

Ambitious in its historical scope and its broad range of topics, Tied to the Great Packing Machine tells the dramatic story of meatpacking’s enormous effects on the economics, culture, and environment of the Midwest over the past century and a half. Wilson Warren situates the history of the industry in both its urban and its rural settings—moving from the huge stockyards of Chicago and Kansas City to today’s smaller meatpacking communities—and thus presents a complete portrayal of meatpacking’s place within the larger agro-industrial landscape.
    Writing from the vantage point of twenty-five years of extensive research, Warren analyzes the evolution of the packing industry from its early period, dominated by the big terminal markets, through the development of new marketing and technical innovations that transformed the ways animals were gathered, slaughtered, and processed and the final products were distributed. In addition, he concentrates on such cultural impacts as ethnic and racial variations, labor unions, gender issues, and changes in Americans’ attitudes toward the ethics of animal slaughter and patterns of meat consumption and such environmental problems as site-point pollution and microbe contamination, ending with a stimulating discussion of the future of American meatpacking.
    Providing an excellent and well-referenced analysis within a regional and temporal framework that ensures a fresh perspective, Tied to the Great Packing Machine is a dynamic narrative that contributes to a fuller understanding of the historical context and contemporary concerns of an extremely important industry.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

LIKE THOUSANDS OF OTHER Americans, I first read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle during high school. Partly because I lived in Ottumwa, Iowa, an old midwestern meatpacking town, where the smells from the Hormel plant wafted into the school, the book made a huge impression on me. Many years later I realized that the book...

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CHAPTER 1 The Industrial Center of the Country

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pp. 1-4

“THEY WERE TIED to the great packing machine, and tied to it for life,” wrote Upton Sinclair in The Jungle, referring to packing workers in early twentieth-century Chicago. The line could easily have described virtually all Americans, particularly midwesterners. Since the establishment of meatpacking in and around Cincinnati...


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CHAPTER 2 It Was All So Very Businesslike

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pp. 7-28

FOUR MAJOR PHASES of development have characterized meatpacking’s industrial evolution in the Midwest since the early 1800s. The initial phase emerged during the settlement of the trans-Appalachian West when merchant-wholesalers, centered in Cincinnati and the Ohio River towns during the 1830s and 1840s, slaughtered and...

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CHAPTER 3 A Thing as Tremendous as the Universe

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pp. 29-46

AT THE TURN of the twentieth century, Upton Sinclair described Chicago’s stockyards district as “the greatest aggregation of labor and capital ever gathered in one place.” His characterization of the stockyards district’s magnitude was no exaggeration; it was indeed the largest industrial complex in the United States, if not in the...


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CHAPTER 4 The Families Had All Been of Different Nationalities

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pp. 49-72

IN ONE OF THE more memorable passages in The Jungle, Upton Sinclair brilliantly summarizes the way Chicago’s major packinghouses drew upon “representative[s] of several races that . . . displaced each other in the stockyards,” each new group representing “cheaper labor” than the preceding group.1 In this way, the major...

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CHAPTER 5 Benefits of a More Substantial Nature

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pp. 73-98

IN TWO BRIEF PASSAGES from The Jungle, Upton Sinclair points out packinghouse workers’ deep concerns about workplace rights and the quality of their community life. The first focuses on workers’ efforts to gain a degree of workplace control: “Little by little he gathered that the main thing the men wanted was to put a stop to the...

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CHAPTER 6 With All Her Soul upon Her Work

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pp. 99-113

MOST PEOPLE ASSUME meatpacking is a male-only industry.Yet in one of many moving passages from The Jungle, Upton Sinclair testifies to the fact that women have been employed in packing plants for the last one hundred years when he describes an anonymous sausage maker: “She stayed right there—hour after hour, day after day...

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CHAPTER 7 I’m Glad I’m Not a Hog

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pp. 114-138

BEFORE TAKING a packing-plant job, Jurgis Rudkus, the male protagonist of The Jungle, toured the fictitious Durham Company plant, as companies allowed before the modern era. Ushered up five or six floors to the top of the hog-killing floor, Jurgis is struck by how “very businesslike” pork making is. The “slaughtering machine,” he thinks, “is like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen...

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CHAPTER 8 Fresh Meats Must Be Had

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pp. 139-162

MEAT H A S A LWAYS been the central component of the U.S. diet. Its growing importance in western Europeans’ diets beginning in the eighteenth century propelled it to prominence in the New World.1 In describing the diet of white colonial Americans, historian Elaine N. McIntosh notes that “the colonial period has been credited...


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CHAPTER 9 That Smelt Like the Craters of Hell

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pp. 165-181

ANY READER of The Jungle is struck repeatedly by its many varied, vivid, and even visceral references to smells. Upton Sinclair generally imbeds his descriptions of odors within depictions of some sort of polluted work- or living place: “There were not merely rivers of hot blood, and carloads of moist flesh, and rendering vats and...

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CHAPTER 10 The Cost of Fodder

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pp. 182-200

IN The Jungle, Upton Sinclair provides a memorable accounting of many of the items that meatpackers produced from slaughtered animals, including combs, buttons, hairpins, and imitation ivory from cattle horns, and gelatin, isinglass, and phosphorous from feet, knuckles, hide clippings, and sinews. Sinclair’s observation that...

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CHAPTER 11 To Fix His Hopes upon a Future Life

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pp. 201-206

PREDICTING THE FUTURE is hazardous, but it seems safe to say that the Midwest will remain tied to the great packing machine for years to come. Certainly much about the meatpacking industry has changed in the century since The Jungle’s publication, perhaps most significantly its shift in location from largely urban areas to mostly rural areas. Yet if Upton Sinclair could return to a midwestern packing plant...


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pp. 207-226

Regional and City Maps

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pp. 227-234


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pp. 235-270


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pp. 271-300


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pp. 301-317

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297748
E-ISBN-10: 1587297744
Print-ISBN-13: 9781587295362
Print-ISBN-10: 1587295369

Page Count: 332
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 651902432
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Tied to the Great Packing Machine

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Agricultural industries -- Environmental aspects -- Middle West.
  • Packing-houses -- Middle West.
  • Middle West -- Economic conditions -- 21st century.
  • Agricultural industries -- Middle West.
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