Gustavus Franklin Swift


Gustavus Franklin Swift Famous memorial

Sagamore, Barnstable County, Massachusetts, USA
Death 29 Mar 1903 (aged 63)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Burial Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Memorial ID 1010 View Source

Businessman, Meat Packing Magnate. He is credited with the development of the first practical ice-cooled railroad car which allowed his company to ship dressed meats to all parts of the country and even abroad. He was born the 2nd son of a farmer where they raised and butchered cattle, hogs, and sheep. He took little interest in a formal education and left school after the 8th grade and began working at his older brother's butcher shop. In 1855, at the age of 16, he started a butcher business out of his father's wagon and expanded it a few months later with the financial aid of his uncle. By 1859 he had earned enough money to open his own butcher shop in Eastham, Massachusetts. In 1869 he opened a meat market in Clinton, Massachusetts where he displayed many different cuts of meat, and gave the most prominent spots to those cuts which customers were less likely to request. He also kept his store incredibly clean, something which was rare in most other contemporary meat markets. In 1872 he became partner in a new venture, Hathaway and Swift. He and partner James A. Hathaway (a renowned Boston meat dealer) initially relocated the company to Albany, New York and then to Buffalo, New York. An astute cattle-buyer, he followed the market steadily westward and in 1875, they moved to Chicago, Illinois and established their business in the Union Stock Yards. He established himself as one of the dominant figures of "The Yards" and his distinctive delivery wagons became familiar fixtures on Chicago's streets. In 1878 his partnership with Hathaway dissolved and Swift Bros and Company was formed in partnership with younger brother Edwin. The company became a driving force in the Chicago meat packing industry, and in 1885 it was incorporated as Swift & Co. In 1878 he hired engineer Andrew Chase to design a ventilated car that was well-insulated, and positioned the ice in a compartment at the top of the car, allowing the chilled air to flow naturally downward, and the design proved to be a practical solution to providing temperature-controlled carriage of dressed meats. He attempted to sell this design to the major railroad but they refused, fearing it would jeopardize their considerable investments in stock cars and animal pens if refrigerated meat transport gained wide acceptance. In response, he formed the Swift Refrigerator Line (SRL) that utilized the refrigerated cars and competing firms such as Armour and Company quickly followed suit. By 1920 the SRL owned and operated 7,000 of the ice-cooled rail cars. He adapted the methods of the industrial revolution to meat packing operations, which resulted in huge efficiencies by allowing his plants to produce at a massive scale. Additionally, he devoted a great deal of time to indoctrinating employees and teaching them the company's methods and policies. He motivated his employees to focus on the company's profit goals by adhering to a strict policy of promotion from within. The innovations that he championed not only revolutionized the meat packing industry, but also played a vital role in establishing the modern American business system, with an emphasis on mass production, functional specialization, managerial expertise, national distribution networks, and adaptation to technological innovation. His was one of the first companies in modern business history to boast complete "vertical integration" and had departments for purchasing, production, shipping, sales, and marketing. He hired engineers and chemists to find uses for the byproducts of cattle slaughter to ensure that nothing was wasted. After establishing plants in St. Louis, Missouri, Kansas City, Kansas, Omaha, Nebraska, Fort Worth, Texas, St. Paul, Minnesota and other major cattle cities, he took his company international. He captured the British market, and exported beef by refrigerated compartments on ships to distributing houses he established in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan, Shanghai, China, Hong Kong, Manila, Philippines, Singapore, and Honolulu, Hawaii. He died at the age of 63 from internal bleeding following a surgery. At the time of his death his company was valued at around $135 million, and employed more than 21,000 people.

Bio by: William Bjornstad


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 1010
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Gustavus Franklin Swift (24 Jun 1839–29 Mar 1903), Find a Grave Memorial ID 1010, citing Mount Hope Cemetery, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by Find a Grave .