1919 - 1979
With the establishment of the stockyards, meat buyers were quick to congregate in South St. Paul. In 1897, Armour had buyers here. Cattle, hogs and sheep were purchased and then shipped to Chicago for processing. Nearby the Swift & Company plant was already operational. The St. Paul Union Stockyards offered Armour land and financing to build a plant but Armour declined. In 1915, after the start of World War I, subsidies, free land and the lure of an established public livestock market provided the final incentive to attract Armour. Construction began two years later with hundreds of local residents employed.
When Armour & Company began operations on a 47 acre site here on the west bank of the Mississippi River in 1919, it was acclaimed by the nation's press as the most modern meat processing plant in the world. It was the largest industrial plant in the Twin Cities and extended more than half a mile along the river. There were nine steam boilers in the power plant which provided heat and hot water. The $14 million, six-story complex of 1.6 million square feet included 22 buildings of which 450,000 square feet were refrigerated. Water needed for plant operation was supplied by four wells that ranged from 890 to 1,000 feet deep. Water used annually was equal to that of a city of 80,000 people.
The plant opened in December, 1919, with some 2,000 employees. Recruitment in Europe produced an initial labor force with some 20 ethnic groups represented in the city. As the operation grew the community swelled to more than 20,000 at its peak. In 1919, Armour boasted its own branch of the St. Paul Public Library to promote continued education for its employees.
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The new immigrants were also encouraged to become naturalized citizens.
At capacity this plant processed 700 hogs hourly during an eight-hour shift, as well as 180 cattle and 1,000 calves and sheep. The operations were inspected daily by the United States Department of Agricultural (USDA)
. There were 21 railroad spur lines which served the site, assuring that the finished products could be swiftly moved to customers.
Armour operated 33 meat packing plants in the United States at one time and employed 60,000 people. The South St. Paul plant was the largest. Many of its products were shipped around the world, especially during the war years to aid U.S. and allied forces. At its peak operation, the plant employed close to 4,000 with the annual payroll of $26 million. Armour paid more than $260,000 yearly in various taxes.
Labor-management disputes flared during the life of the plant and in 1948 the Minnesota National Guard was dispatched to the site by the governor during a 10-week strike. Major floods in the 1950s and 1960s stopped production until a permanent flood wall was constructed in 1965.
Armour & Company was later acquired by the Greyhound Corp. with executive offices moved from Chicago to Phoenix. As the buildings aged, with equipment becoming obsolete, the plant was closed in 1979. The city of South St. Paul purchased the vacated plant in 1989 from a local real estate firm. The next year at a cost of $2.8 million the buildings were demolished. Today the site is part of Bridge Point, a commercial - industrial development.