Because early Fulton was surrounded by ranches and could be accessed by water, the town became a leading packing center on the Texas coast. The industry flourished from 1868 to 1882. Initially, the packeries rendered cattle hides and tallow only and dumped the carcasses in the bay. Later, as demand for beef as a food increased, the packeries literally "packed" meat—pickled, salted, or dried—in barrels which were shipped by steamer to New Orleans and other ports.
At the industry's height, the Fulton packeries included the Boston Beef Packing Co.; Carruthers, Fulton, and Co.; Lyman Meat Packing and Canning; W. S. Hall Co.; American Meat Packing Co.; Meriam Packing Co.; McNeill, Nash and Co.; and D.L. & E.G. Holden. The latter in 1871 became the first mechanically refrigerated slaughter house in America.
As early as 1870, a few of the packeries also processed turtles from Aransas Bay. With some weighing from 100 to 500 pounds, turtles were trapped and kept alive in submerged 12-foot-square rope and wood pens until the price was highest per pound. In 1890, the Fulton Canning Co. produced 40,000 2-pound cans of turtle meat.
In 1895, the State of Texas imposed restrictions to halt the severe depletion of turtles and oysters in its bays. The turtle population was unable to be saved, and by 1900, turtle packing in Fulton ended. Beef packing also declined rapidly after the arrival of a rail line in 1888, which allowed shipment of live cattle to distant packing plants.