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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: meat packing industry


Milwaukee has long dominated the meat packing industry in Wisconsin. The city was producing over three-quarters of the state's processed meat products by 1860 and became nationally known as a center for pork processing. The slaughtering and packing of meat products began in small-scale operations that primarily served local markets.  Racine was one of the first communities to take advantage of outside markets in the 1830s but financial uneasiness in the 1850s ended the trade.  The development and expansion of the railroads in the mid-19th century allowed the meat processing industry to centralize around transportation hubs, like Chicago and Milwaukee.  Milwaukee's meat production industry began to rise to prominence in 1855 under the leadership of such firms as Plankinton and Layton and Thomas and Edward Roddis.  The Civil War intensified pork production as firms strove to meet the needs of the war effort. Beef packing also increased dramatically during the war but dwindled after the war ended as cities nearer to the centers of cattle raising, like Kansas City, began to dominate production. As plants grew in size, the operations became more mechanized and the work more specialized.  The introduction of the refrigerated rail car in 1869 dramatically bolstered the industry, allowing it to become a year-round industry and to expand to international levels. The formation of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America led to some major restructuring of the industry in the early 20th century, including the adoption of more efficient machinery. Working conditions improved substantially in the 1930s and 1940s with the formation of the United Packinghouse Workers of America.  WWI provided the industry its most significant boom since the introduction of the refrigerated rail car and led to an increase in the number of women employed in the packinghouse. The diffusion of meat packing concerns to the west meant that Wisconsin was no longer among the top packing states by 1920. Nevertheless, the meatpacking remained a top industry in the state. The industry experienced another boom during WWII and brought with it extensive modernization but this was the last period of extensive meat production in Wisconsin.

View pictures related to slaughtering and slaughterhouses at Wisconsin Historical Images.

View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

[Source: Wisconsin's Cultural Resource Study Units, Wisconsin Historical Society]

110 records found

Mackinac Island
Mackinaw (logging)
Mackinaw boat
Madeleine Island
Madison Alliance for Homosexual Equality (MAHE)
Madison Guard (Civil War)
Madison Sharp-shooters (Civil War)
main deck (maritime)
mainchains (maritime)
mainline (railroads)
mainmast (maritime)
Major (Civil War)
Major General (Civil War)
Make her out (logging)
Man-catcher (logging)
mangeur de lard (Fr.)
Manitowoc and Kewanee County Guards (Civil War)
mansard roof (architecture)
manufacturing in Wisconsin
maple syrup industry
Marching 12th (Civil War)
Marching 12th (Civil War)
marl (farming)
marl (mining)
Mass transportation in Wisconsin
mast (maritime)
master (maritime)
mate (maritime)
mattock (farming)
maw (farming)
May Riot (1886)
meat packing industry
medecin (Fr.)
Menasha Guards (Civil War)
Mendota Guard (Civil War)
Menominee Treaty of 1831
Menominee Treaty of 1836
Menominee Treaty of 1848
meridian (survey)
Messmore Guards (Civil War)
metamorphic rocks (mining)
metis (Fr.)
Metzner Act
mica (mining)
mica slate (mining)
Michigan Territory
Michilimakinac County
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midships (maritime)
milch (farming)
Military Ridge Road
military road
Milk strikes, 1933
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Mills Law
Milwaukee & Horicon Railroad
Milwaukee & Missississippi Railroad
Milwaukee & Watertown Railroad
Milwaukee 14
Milwaukee and Rock River Canal
Milwaukee Braves
Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee German Turners (Civil War)
Milwaukee Handicraft Project
Milwaukee Light Guard (Civil War)
Milwaukee Regiment (Civil War)
Milwaukee Riflemen (Civil War)
Milwaukee Union Rifles (Civil War)
Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUS
Milwaukee Zouaves (Civil War)
Milwaukee-Downer College
Miners' Guard (Civil War)
mining in northern Wisconsin
mining in southwestern Wisconsin
Mirro Aluminum Company
Missionary Ridge, Battle of
Mississippian culture (archaeology)
mizzen (maritime)
mizzenmast (maritime)
Monongahela Rlver
Monroe County Voluneers (Civil War)
moor (maritime)
mooring bitt (maritime)
mullion (farming)
musqueton (Fr.)
Muzzle-loaders (logging)
Méchéygan, Lake

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