Industrialization transformed Chicago's economy, landscape, and international reputation during the second half of the nineteenth century. By the early 1900s, people around the world regarded Chicago as a manufacturing metropolis, dominated by factories and populated by the people who owned, operated, or worked in them. And there was some truth to this perception. In 1919, half of the 400,000 wage earners in the city worked in heavy industries, including iron and steel, garment manufacturing, agricultural and electrical machinery manufacturing, commercial printing, railroading, and meat packing. The breakfast sausages, harvesting equipment, lanterns, and steel rails produced in Chicago-area factories reached international markets. The promise of employment in these industries reached just as far, drawing immigrants to the metropolitan region. Chicago's identity as a manufacturing center and the reputation among some of its industries for innovative production methods became so established that turn-of-the-century travel guidebooks often listed industrial areas--usually the Union Stock Yard or the community of Pullman--as recommended stops on tourist itineraries.
This promotional lithograph published in Chicago offered a remarkably sanitized view of the pork packing process. Even the "killing benches" appeared untainted by blood or entrails, while workers operated in safe conditions. According to the image, meat for foreign markets underwent well-supervised inspections and was "untouched by hand" during the canning process. One panel accurately reflected the popularity of Chicago's meat-packing facilities as a tourist destination, depicting a well-dressed group (man, woman, and child) observing the process in the "hanging room." Less hygienic portrayals, however, soon reached a wide audience via Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel, The Jungle. Although Sinclair was more interested in highlighting the deplorable circumstances of employees in the meat-packing industry, his description of unsanitary conditions in the packing plants and potentially tainted meat products drew international concern and denunciation. The federal government responded to the public outcry and to fears about the novel's impact on European meat exports by enacting the Pure Food and Drug Act and Meat Inspection Act later that year.
This 1911 French advertisement for Armour & Company's Meat Extract demonstrates the international reach of Chicago's meatpackers. Beef, pork, and meat byproducts from Armour and other Chicago firms made their way around the world from India to Australia to South Africa to Sweden to China. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Chicago meatpackers entered and quickly dominated the South American market, processing animals in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. By World War I, Armour, Swift, and Morris were familiar brands throughout much of the world.
Armour and Morris Foreign Houses and Agencies, 1924
During the late nineteenth century, the McCormick Works factory at Blue Island and Western Avenues took advantage of proximity to rail and water transportation corridors that ran through the lower west side of the city. The plant is seen here shortly after the 1902 merger of McCormick Harvesting Machine Company with four other firms to form International Harvester Co., one of the world's leading manufacturers of agricultural machinery, controlling more than 80 percent of world production in grain harvesting equipment. By the 1950s, International Harvester had moved much of its production facilities outside the Chicago area and the McCormick Works were closed.
Several of the world's largest steel companies operated mills in the Chicago region, including the Gary Works of U. S. Steel. By the early twentieth century, U.S. Steel, Inland Steel, Republic Steel, Acme Steel, Wisconsin Steel, and others turned out millions of tons of finished steel every year, making Chicago a critical center of steel production.
This engraving from the letterhead of chewing-gum manufacturer William Wrigley Jr. Co. indicated the company's expansion in overseas sales and production. Based upon the popularity of its industry-leading "Spearmint" brand, Wrigley Co. extended its foreign operations during the 1910s and claimed to be "the brand that is sold all over the world." The manufacturing facility pictured here was in the McKinley Park Community Area at 3527 S. Ashland Ave., just south of the Sanitary and Ship Canal. The company's business headquarters were then located in the Loop, and would be moved to the Wrigley Building on North Michigan Avenue after construction was completed in 1921.