This article was published in the July 1907 issue of “Chicago The Great Central Market Magazine.” It was possibly written as a PR piece to combat Upton Sinclair’s exposé “The Jungle,” which was published as a book on February 26, 1906.
A DAY AT THE UNION STOCK YARDS
By James E. Poole.
FATHER DEARBORN had barely raised his head from the pillow, and Old Sol’s initial efforts to dispel nocturnal gloom and inject sunbeams through the murky pall that hovers on a stock yard horizon were barely perceptible, when a troop of live-stock commission men felt for the initial throbs of the vast volume of business that circulates daily through the myriad arteries of the world’s greatest live-stock market.
It was Monday; and 35,000 cattle, 50,000 hogs, 35,000 sheep, and 1,500 horses had been swallowed in the capacious maw of the yards since early Sunday evening. As early as Friday night, and all Saturday, the usual week-end activity that accumulates and sets in motion a Monday run of live stock, had been in evidence at more than a thousand stations on the great network of rails that laces the territory of which Chicago is the entrepot. Nearly three thousand cars, a hundred locomotives, and the constant care of a human army were incidental to all this preliminary. All the previous week good markets had been the rule. A moderate supply had been “licked clean,” to use the vernacular, and commission firms, responding by wire, phone, and mail to insistent calls for advice from country shippers, had sent the always welcome injunction, “let them come.” The result was a monster aggregation of equine, bovine, porcine, and ovine wealth, gathered from Texas to the Canadian boundary, and from Ohio to Washington and Arizona. There were sleek beeves from Kansas feed-lots, meal-fed steers from Texas, hay-fed cattle from Montana, portly porkers in profusion from every nook and cranny of the corn belt, and an army of white-faced lambs of New Mexican origin, but made fit for the butcher on the fat lands of Colorado. And over in Packingtown 25,000 workers were waiting impatiently for the slaughter of this lowing, squealing, bleating host, for within a few brief hours 100,000 animal careers would be terminated to satisfy the hunger of the civilized world.
It had been a night of anxiety along the lines of the half-dozen great railroads ramifying the territory between Chicago and the Mississippi River. At the western bank of the Father of Waters converge a hundred routes, that in their wind-up reach every spot on the map where live stock is produced, some of them leading away up into the heart of the Rockies; to the San Luis Valley, where mutton is a speciality, or the Big Hole basin in Montana, noted for its beef. On one principal road alone, 900 carloads had crossed a single bridge over the Mississippi, and the task of getting the run into Chicago in time for the market was of such importance that the general traffic manager had spent a sleepless night, directing its movement. By nightfall, Sunday, all had been commotion and activity in the Stock Yards. Under a canopy of electric lights that dimmed into insignificance the constellation above, hundreds of men, working under perfect discipline, disembarked, yarded, and fed the contents of a long procession of trains, and before buyers were in the saddle Monday, the welcome announcement was made that the run was “all in.” All this was merely preliminary to the transaction of a day’s business involving $2,000,000, and before night that vast sum was flowing through distributive channels, some going to railroad coffers to swell net earnings, but the great bulk finding its way to the country, rewarding the producer for his energy and enterprise.
LAYING OUT THE DAY’S WORK
“We’ve got a regular patchwork run,” exclaimed the office-member of a commission firm to his partner, the yard man, “and it’s up to you to do some tall hustling to keep us square with the boys in the country. There’s half a dozen loads of big fellows from Nebraska that ought to have been here two weeks ago, and you’ll have a picnic getting what the shipper thinks they’re worth. Sellem & Quick have a split on the drove and it’s up to you to beat ’em out. Bunkum has. shot in that bunch he bought about 60 days ago, and every buyer in the yards ’11 turn ’em down. ‘Phoned him to hold them another 30 days, and hide their bones, but he knows it all and we’ll be to blame because the price ain’t right. There’s a dozen loads of butcher-stuff, with a tail end of hat-racks and skeletons that would make an angel weep. We’re split on several loads of hogs and the market’s a dime lower, with shippers out, and the boys doing nothing. There’s a big band of lambs from a man whose business we’ve been trying to get for over a year, and if we fall down, there’ll be no excuse for burning any more postage stamps on him.”
EXPLANATION OF TERMS
All this meant that the owner of some fat Nebraska cattle had overstayed the market by carrying them into hot weather and, of course, relied on the commission man to extricate him; that an Iowa feeder had ignored his advice and shipped a drove of half-fat cattle at a time when they were reveling in unpopularity, and that a Wisconsin buyer, in picking up a consignment of dairy-yard culls, had acquired a liberal percentage of old cows, technically known as “canners,” but referred to in stockyard vernacular as “hat racks” and “skeltons,” sometimes, facetiously, as “fat rascals.” All this complicated the function of the commission man. “Splits” on hogs meant that country shippers had divided their consignments between several houses to test their selling capability, while the consigner of the sheep had decided to give this particular house a trial in response to frequent solicitation, and retention of his business hinged on satisfactory results in this instance. The yard or outside member of the firm accumulated a few additional gray hairs as he pondered over the problems presented by the day’s programme. Five minutes later he was in the saddle, directing his forces, for in each department the house had a competent salesman on the ground even earlier in the day. For two hours neither the general nor his subordinates stopped to breathe, but by noon the yardman threw himself out of his saddle, limp and inert, climbed to the office, and thus addressed his partner, the officeman:
DISTRIBUTING THE PROCEEDS
“We got five-ninety for those big dogs from Nebraska, and when you write give him a piece of your mind for holding them so long. It was 10 cents above the market, but I was lucky enough to get a shipper or we’d have had to carry ’em over. Write that Iowa man to use a little more corn on ‘cm and not be in such a hurry. I got out with this bunch all right but I’d sooner he’d send the others to the fellows across the way. We’re stuck on the “canners,” but the fat cows sold like hot-cakes. Struck a hot spot in the middle and got 2½ cents above the early market for all our hogs. Guess that’ll take care of the splits. But talk about luck! We got top price on the sheep. That ought to keep your Colorado man coming for a while. It’s up to you to do the rest after we mark the tickets.”
Two hours later the office-man had advised the consigners of the day’s results, incidentally mailing drafts for about $50,000, which represented the aggregate value of the stuff consigned to this house alone. What the yardman told to the office-man was that the big Kansas cattle had sold for $5.90 per cwt., due to mere luck in finding an Eastern shipper with an urgent order; that the half- fat stuff from Iowa had been sold with difficulty and that he would prefer seeing an opposition firm get the next lot; that an upward turn in hogs had enabled the house to get the best prices of the session and make good on “splits,” while securing a “top” on the sheep consignment justified expectancy of more trade from the same source. Having done his part the yardman left to the office-man the task of impressing on the shipper in the country the different degrees of advantage with which the firm had handled his consignments. In stock yards circles, as every where else, it is good service that counts.
REWARDS OF THE COMMISSION MAN
In no other sphere of commercial activity are the rewards in smaller proportion to the labor involved, or the ingenuity, energy, and experience required, than in the handling and sale of live stock on the great markets of the country, of which Chicago is the foremost. A carload of hogs worth $1,200 or more, is yarded, shaped-up, fed, watered, sold, and the proceeds remitted to the country shipper for the sum of $8.00. And the live stock salesman pursues no kid-gloved vocation. He braves all brands of weather, begins his daily task at an hour when most commercial men are still enjoying the comfort of their homes, works either in slush or dust, and takes considerable financial risk in honoring drafts on consign ments. Necessarily he is no laggard, for competition is keen, and when his returns are unsatisfactory to the shipper, the latter is likely to change his salesman. The commission man finds himself pitted daily against the shrewdest opponent man ever had, the packer’s buyer, and it is usually a case of Greek meeting Greek. And always the success of the country buyer is in the hands of the salesman. There are tricks in all trades, according to an accepted axiom, and the stock yard salesman must be a tactician every minute of the business day. He must secure the maximum “fill,” exact from the buyer every possible cent, and finally convince the owner that he accomplished all that was possible. Logically it is not a sphere in which the weakling succeeds. In the stock yard arena only the fittest survive.
HONOR AND SQUARE DEALING
Honor is the maxim of the stock yarder; as a matter of fact, he has no alternative. “Ways that are dark and tricks that are vain” have no place here. Square dealing is the basic rock of the whole stock yard commercial fabric. When the country buyer or grower, and more than 50,000 of them contribute to the Chicago supply, orders a car and bills a load of live stock to Chicago, he watches the way-freight pick it up with no concern as to results. True he does not know what kind of a market he will strike, but that is the only un certain feature of the transaction. He does know, however, that within an hour after his consignment is sold on the Chicago market, a letter containing a draft for the net proceeds, will be hurrying back, accompanied by an explicit statement of the transaction. And he knows that his Chicago agent has done the best he could under market conditions, and that there exists not the remotest possibility that he could be defrauded of a dollar. Absolute confidence has been created in the mind of the shipper by the incomparable system of selling live stock, originated at Chicago and adopted by every lesser market, as they have been from time to time established.
MAKING A SALE
And between buyer and seller the same trade status is maintained. By mere word of mouth is a trade, averaging more than $i,000,000 each business day of the year transacted.
“Want a load of cattle?” asks the salesman of a perambulating buyer. “I’ve got some good ones.”
“Well, I can use ’em if you’ve got my kind. I’ll look at ’em.”
Together they ride briskly to the pen where the stuff is held.
“How much?” laconically asks the buyer after a brief survey.
“Give you forty.”
“Split the difference.”
“Weigh ’em at half a dollar then.”
In less time than it takes to tell about it, a load of cattle for which the seller asked $5.60 per cwt. and the buyer bid $5.40 has been sold at $5.50. No mention of the dollar in the price was made because each party to the dicker knew the cattle were worth between $5 and S6 per cwt. Had the sale been recorded a dollar higher or as much lower, it would have been the same. Cattle sell anywhere from $1.25 for low grade canners to $8.50 or more at infrequent intervals for choice beeves, and yet in negotiating sales, buyer and seller use only such terms as “quarter,” “half,” or “thirty cents.” And when a buyer concludes a deal involving possibly the payment of $5,000 or more, he rides off without requiring any written record of the transaction. The seller merely “marks the ticket” by inscribing on the reverse side of the scale ticket giving weights, the figure at which the stuff was sold, and on this the buyer pays. Individual buyers not infrequently purchase cattle to the value of $100,000 on a single session of the market, and a salesman may dispose of as many, yet no subsequent altercation as to what the price was ever “churns the atmosphere.”
EXTENT OF THE HOG MARKET
Chicago’s hog market is the greatest existing It is the bourse that determines porcine values the wide world over. Drawing its supply largely from Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, Chicago feeds the whole world with smoked, cured, and fresh pork. Its prestige as a hog market is due to preponderance of production in the West and of consumption in the East, for Chicago sends as many as 50,000 live hogs to New England and the Atlantic seaboard states in a single week at seasons of the year when the Eastern grower is “all in.” It is at such times that, responding to the competitive influence, prices soar. Formerly there were two distinct seasons in the hog market, known as winter and summer packing seasons, but that was before the era of artificial refrigeration. Nowadays packers handle hogs with the same facility in the dog days as when the mercury hugs the zero point and the hog market is an all the year round affair.
SHEEP FROM EVERYWHERE
Great in everything appertaining to livestock, Chicago also leads all competitors as a sheep market. Here the ovine wealth of the great Western ranges from Arizona to Montana and Colorado to Oregon finds its way to the shambles. A million or more thin sheep and lambs pass through Chicago every summer, en route from the ranges of the West to feed lots in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and New York to be finished for winter mutton. Tributary to Chicago are the largest mutton finishing and wool shearing stations in the world. Half a million muttons fattened annually on elevator waste around Minneapolis and St. Paul find a market at Chicago, and in season the spring lamb from Northern California bleats in chorus with Tennessee and Ohio product.
THE CHICAGO HORSE DEALER
In a class by himself is the Chicago horse dealer. No prototype of Eben Holden is he. Chicago handles more horses every week than any other market in America or Europe. It is a trade creation of recent years made possible by adoption of the same system that has made the live stock market a trade arena of unquestioned probity. Whatever a man may be otherwise, he is of necessity honest when selling horses within the influence of trade rules that dominate Dexter Park. At this ringside gather clamorous buyers from all corners of
Christendom. San Francisco competes with Boston for drafters, and the wealth of Mexico with that of London for hunters and coachers. An army of buyers scour the central states and the Far West for supplies, and equine trade is handled here on a scale so vast that nowhere else has it been attempted. Chicago’s horse trade has been built up on the principle of selling an animal for exactly what it is, misrepresentation being an offence that promptly places the offender outside the pale. Dexter Park, once the most noted race track of Amcrice, is now the daily scene of an animated trade in equine flesh beside which Tatersall’s degenerates to the proportions of a gipsy-camp swapping match. There are firms doing business on the Chicago market with sufficient capital invested to start a pretentious bank, and the weekly volume of business is between one half and three quarters of a million dollars. Some idea of the trade and the system to which it has been reduced is indicated by the fact that a well equipped hospital with a staff of veterinarians is constantly maintained.
WHAT THE STOCK YARDS ARE TO CHICAGO
Approximately $300,000,000 worth of raw material is marketed here annually. Deducting the cost of transportation, that amount is remitted to the grower by members of the Chicago Live Stock Exchange, but in the process of manufacture into food product, the aggregate value is enhanced enormously. What the value of the output of Chicago’s immense packing houses is represents the value of the trade to the metropolis. Affording a direct livelihood to 35,000 people, the live stock industry indirectly supports 200,000 more. Railroads return free, to the point of loading, one man for every two cars of live stock, and as receipts run from 5,000 to 6,000 cars weekly, the floating population of Chicago, resulting from this traffic alone is enormous.
It hails from nearly every state in the Union, as a throng of Eastern buyers is a stock yard feature at all times. Hither come feeders from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and other Eastern states for material to fill their feed lots. Three hundred horse buyers congregate around the auction ring at Dexter Park; Germany, France, England, and Mexico being represented most of the season. Here the South buys horses for its cotton fields, the range cattle outfit purchases supplies.
Every big run of live stock fetches with it hundreds of farmers and shippers, whose patronage of Chicago’s retail merchants is a trade highly prized and earnestly sought for Chicago’s live stock market was its earliest industry. On that bottle it was nursed in its swaddling clothes, and now having reached maturity, it remains one of the main commercial supports of the city. It has its own banks and newspapers, but its vitalizing force is diffused through nearly every business channel of the community. Without the live stock
shipper, many a hotel corridor would be less thronged and many a theater seat unoccupied. When the Westerner comes to Chicago with live stock, he is invariably imbued with a determination to enjoy a “good time,” regardless of expense up to certain limitations. He spends with typical Western open-handedness.
Typifying Chicago, the live stock trade is progressive. Other markets have been founded in response to ‘ocal necessity, but the pioneer and premier bourse still maintains its, lead. More sight-seeing pilgrims hike to the stock yards during the year than dilate the vision with Niagara’s stupendousness. It is a modern world’s wonder.