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]