1897 - 1969
On this site stood Swift & Company's slaughterhouse and meat packing plant. It eventually became the company's largest plant in the United States. The area covered 28 acres, with 30.5 acres of floor space in multi-storied buildings.
Swift & Company, founded in Chicago in 1869, came to this location in 1897 when Alpheus B. Stickney, a prominent businessman and President of the Chicago Great Western Railroad, negotiated a 999 year lease with Gustavus Swift of Chicago to take over a small meat packing plant at the same location. Swift enlarged and expanded the capacity of the small plant's operation as the Twin City area grew and the demand for meat increased.
The purpose of this plant was to slaughter and process cattle, hogs, and sheep. These animals were procured by the company buyers at the adjacent St. Paul Union Stockyards. The live animals were driven across overhead ramps to the killing floors. Swift processed fresh, smoked, table-ready, canned meats, such as PREM
, and baby foods, along with soap, lard, shortening, adhesives, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, hides and animal feeds.
To facilitate and fill the demand for all their products, Swift used refrigerated railroad cars to ship their perishable products throughout the country. Ice was harvested mostly from the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers, until mechanized refrigeration came into use. Products were also shipped overseas, especially during war years to supply the United States and allied forces.
There were some interruptions in the 72 year operation due to labor strikes and floods, including the 10 week strike of 1948 and the floods of 1951, 1952, and 1965.
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Swift & Company workers came from a variety of backgrounds. Management personnel came from other Swift locations such as Chicago and Omaha. European emigrants, hoping to improve their living conditions, joined local area men and women as general employees. The company encouraged the immigrants to become naturalized citizens. Employment increased from 300 in 1897 to 5000 during peak operations during World War II. The average work force was 3500. In 1969, the closing year of the South St. Paul plant, there were 2400 workers. Swift & Company's employees, as well as the Company, were most supportive of local and state civic activities. Taxes generated by this industry contributed to the welfare and economy of South St. Paul, helping to build schools and provide city services.
In 1962 the payroll topped $23 million. Basic wages were supplemented by "B" money, a system of bonus pay for work done above the standard set for each department.
It was in 1919 (Swift & Company's 50th anniversary) that stock in the company became available to the public.
Swift's No. 1 meat packing plant in the nation closed its doors in 1969, after processing millions of animals into billions of products and employing thousands of workers. The closing was due to aging buildings and equipment in a sprawling complex while the industry was changing into specialized, smaller plants. The loss of both 2400 jobs and a steady tax base had a devastating effect on the community.
Meat packing and related businesses were at the heart of South St. Paul's economy, even as far as regulating daily schedules by the blowing of the Swift's whistle morning, noon, and night. The High School athletic teams are still known as the "Packers".