The idea to create a livestock market and meat packing center at South St. Paul was conceived by Alpheus B. Stickney, a prominent railroad businessman. After meetings with western livestock ranchers and producers, the need to locally slaughter and process the cattle, hogs, and sheep passing through the area en route to Chicago became apparent. Stickney discussed the situation with livestock organizations and business leaders of St. Paul. The St. Paul Union Stockyards was organized June 30, 1886.
The site selected consisted of 260 acres, costing $520,000. Only 186 acres were used for initial development. Swampy conditions made it necessary to cover the entire acreage with a layer of clay and sand five feet thick. This soil was excavated from the adjacent river bluffs. Water towers were built, sewers installed, brick floors were laid, lot, streets, alley and both open and covered pens were constructed. Costs then exceeded $1 million.
Along with the stockyard construction, an office building was necessary. The architecturally significant Exchange Building was completed in 1887. Numerous buying and selling agencies were headquartered there. Between 1912 and 1917, additions were completed which housed the Stockyards National Bank, and offices of related businesses.
The first shipment to the Stockyards arrived September 3, 1887. Livestock shipments increased as Minnesota farmers turned from grain to livestock production. Outpacing the 10 other major livestock markets in the Midwest, South St. Paul became the world's largest market from 1974 to 1981, netting daily proceeds of over $1 million.
Unchanged since its beginning, the South St. Paul market is open seven days per week. All livestock species are received, fed, and watered 24 hours per day. Stockyard employees sort and drive the animals to the consigned selling agencies' pens. Livestock is sold during daytime business hours by salesmen, called "Commission Men", to buyers representing meat packing companies, farmers and livestock feeders.
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After animals are weighed on state certified scales, they are delivered to the respective buyers. The weight tickets are taken to the commission firms' offices in the Exchange Building. The stockyard company and selling agencies derive their income from selling fees and yardage charges. These fees plus hauling expenses are deducted from the gross proceeds before bonded checks are issued to the producers.
In the early years, animals arrived at the Stockyards by rail from a seven state area and Canada. Truck transportation gradually replaced rails. Livestock shipments now originate from a three state area.
Largest Single Day Shipments
9-4-34 · 31,862 cattle
8-27-34 · 12,249 calves
9-4-33 · 61,532 hogs
10-8-34 · 70,824 sheep
Largest Yearly Shipments
1934 · 1,474,890 cattle
1934 · 840,413 calves
1924 · 3,751,395 hogs
1943 · 1,787,014 sheep
Today's Stockyards covers 27 acres with 4 selling agencies. In 1946, a peak operation year, the yards covered 75 acres with 27 agencies. Since 1995, the operation of the Stockyards has been managed by Central Livestock Association.
Newspapers, since 1887, and radio broadcasts, begun in 1926, continue to inform farmers and producers of the daily market conditions. Market officials have taken an active part in educating and promoting the livestock industry through activities such as establishing the first 4H Livestock Show in 1918, and Future Farmers of America classes.
Although the size of the yards and the volume of livestock handled has declined, the South St. Paul Livestock Market continues to provide a dependable market for thousands of producers.