Chicago’s Union Stockyards Gate

Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago, Illinois

August 9th, 2017, morning

~ Dedicated to Tracy Runyon 

This July and August, I’ve toured the United States for about three weeks before crossing the seas to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. I’ve driven north from Oakland, California to Spokane, Washington and zigzagged my way east to Chicago, visiting places as far north as Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota to as far south as Hannibal, Missouri. It’s been an absolutely exciting and glorious journey, and I’m not at all ready for it to end.

Yet today’s my last day in Chicago; I fly out headed for Europe this evening. There’s plenty of time to make a couple of stops today at interesting historical sites besides taking care of last minute details (donating my tent and other things I don’t want to lug with me to Europe to a thrift store, returning the rental car, etc). My first stop is a special request from a dear friend, who also generously helped sponsor this trip.

On June 1st, 1865, a crew of workmen began work on what would be the first example of modern industrial production of food on a massive scale. The Union Stockyards opened on Christmas Day that same year: ‘The Union Stock Yard & Transit Co. of Chicago received its first bellowing arrivals on Christmas Day 1865. …[It] covered a half square mile west of Halsted Street between Pershing Road and 47th Street- Anderson … [and] held on until 1971, when it closed forever…’, wrote Jon Anderson for the Chicago Tribune.

The Great Union Stock Yards of Chicago, ca. 1878, by Charles Rascher. Published by Walsh & Co of Chicago. Public domain via Library of Congress

I’m standing here in front of a pale limestone gateway at Exchange Avenue and Peoria Street. This gateway was built around a decade and a half after the work on the stockyards began, but my sources differ as to exactly when. One source says 1875, another says 1879, yet another says the exact date is unrecorded and therefore unknown. I do find an illustration of the stockyards by Charles Rascher published in 1878 and a gate like this appears to be included in it: if you look closely at the top of the quarter-circle formed by the curved railways and straight roads along Transit Park in the lower half of the picture, you’ll see a three-arched light-colored gateway represented there. However, the top of the gate in the illustration is flat across the top while this is not; it’s hard to say whether it’s the same gate represented a little inaccurately, or an earlier gate at the site. The current gateway was almost certainly designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Burnham and Root, who designed other buildings at the stockyards.

Another view of the Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago. According to the City of Chicago’s Chicago Landmark website, ‘The limestone steer head over the central arch is traditionally thought to represent “Sherman,” a prize-winning bull named after John B. Sherman, one of the founders of the Union Stock Yard and Transit Company.’

Leslie Orear plaque at the Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago, Illinois

The 320-acre expanse of land that the stockyards occupied at its largest, like the site of our nation’s capital, was once conveniently-located but hard-to-develop swampland, and therefore available for builders visionary and determined (crazy?) enough to transform it. The stockyards were built because for many years, livestock traders and meatpackers thought that operating scattered yards and plants was far less efficient than one unified, or ‘union’ stockyard would be. Civil engineer Octave Chanute designed the grid layout which would make it possible to process live animals into fresh and packed meat products at a rate incredible at the time: down from 8-10 hours for a single butcher, even with assistants, to 35 minutes per animal passing through a Union slaughterhouse’s assembly line. John B. Sherman, who had owned one of Chicago’s earlier largest stockyards, oversaw all this efficiency, managing the Union Stockyards and the Transit Company for many years. According to tradition, it’s the head of a bull named after him that’s sculpted above the center arch of the gate.

Stock Yards National Bank Building near the Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago, IL. It was built in 1925 and its design inspired by Independence Hall in Philadelphia

Stock Yards National Bank Building near the Union Stockyard Gate, Chicago, IL. The words inscribed in the arched niche in the low wall marking the old rail line read: ‘In Honor of Those Who Traveled this Path to Toil at the Union Stockyards’

Even more than for their size and efficiency, the Union Stockyards are likely most often brought to mind today for the horrific scenes described by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 book The Jungle. Sinclair, a socialist, wanted to demonstrate that unfettered capitalism did not, as it was so often claimed, result in more good than harm for working people, or reliably produce safe, quality products. His novel described the exploitation of desperate immigrants working for obscenely low wages in dangerous and filthy conditions; poorly fed, overcrowded, and sickly livestock; diseased livestock and other animals not legal to butcher for food processed into meat;  rotten meat and extremely poor quality offal disguised by heavy processing and spices in packed meat products; and so forth. While many protested that Sinclair’s novel was just that, all fiction, the public outcry reached many public figures and worker’s rights activists ready to receive his message, including Progressive President Theodore Roosevelt. He immediately sent out an inspection team who found that the very same conditions that Upton described so graphically were, in fact, rampant at the stockyards. Sweeping legislation protecting worker and consumer health and safety followed soon after.

Over time, as transportation became more efficient, it also became more efficient and much cheaper for meat producers to process livestock where they were raised. The shrinking Union Stockyards closed for good in 1971. Its arched limestone gate was declared a public landmark on February 24th, 1972.

See below for links for more excellent introductory sources to the history of the Union Stockyards, and scroll down to see the two signs I find at the site which also provide a brief history.

~ Ordinary Philosophy is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Any support you can offer will be deeply appreciated!

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Sources and inspiration

Anderson, Jon. ‘The Chicago Stockyards Open‘, Chicago Tribune 

Bramley, Anne. ‘How Chicago’s Slaughterhouse Spectacles Paved The Way For Big Meat.’ NPR: The Salt, Dec 3, 2015

Chicago Landmarks. ‘Stock Yards National Bank (Former)‘ and ‘Union Stock Yard Gate.‘ Website published by the City of Chicago

City of Chicago Landmark Designation Reports #210: Union Stock Yard Gate. City of Chicago, 1976.

Gregory, Terry. ‘Union Stockyards.’ Chicagology website

Rouse, Kristen L. ‘Meat Inspection Act of 1906.’ Encyclopædia Britannica

Twa, Garth. ‘The Jungle.Encyclopædia Britannica

Wilson, Mark R., Stephen R. Porter, and Janice L. Reiff. ‘Union Stock Yard & Transit Co.‘ The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Paine!

Statue of Thomas Paine by Gutzon Borglum, 1938, Parc Montsouris, Paris, photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Statue of Thomas Paine by Gutzon Borglum, 1938, Parc Montsouris, Paris, photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Let’s remember and salute the great Thomas Paine, father of our American identity, on his birthday. Born on January 29th, 1737, this British-American expatriate, former entrepreneur, and corset-maker’s pamphlets made the case for American independence from Britain, outlined his Lockean conception of human rights, and argued for the primacy of reason in epistemology, politics, science, and theology. He’s a primary influence in my own concept of America as a work-in-progress bastion of liberty, of reason, of freedom of conscience, of the idea that property rights entail the obligation to share the wealth with those who lack what they need.

Here are a few links to some articles and works of art by, about, and inspired by Thomas Paine, including some of my own work:

Common Sense – Thomas Paine (1776)

The American Crisis – Thomas Paine (1776-83)

The Rights of Man – Thomas Paine (1791)

The Age of Reason – Thomas Paine (1794)

Agrarian Justice – Thomas Paine (1795-96)

Thomas Paine – from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

To Paris, France I Go, In Search of Revolution-Era Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson – history of ideas travel series in which I follow Thomas Paine’s life and ideas in the era of the French Revolution

Thomas Paine on Basic Income, and Why Welfare is Compatible with an Individualist Theory of Human Rights – my essay on how Paine’s ideas about property rights led him to advocate the unconditional allocation of public funds for the support of the young, the old, and the disabled

Pretty Pink Rose – David Bowie and Adrian Belew (1990) – ‘She tore down Paris on the tail of Tom Paine, but the left wing’s broken, the right’s insane’

As I Went Out One Morning – Bob Dylan (1968) ‘As I went out one morning to breathe the air around Tom Paine’s, I spied the fairest damsel that ever did walk in chains’

Tom Paine’s Bones – Graham Moore (1995) Recorded by Dick Gaughan in 2001. ‘Well they say I preached revolution but let me say in my defence, all I did wherever I went was to talk a lot of Common Sense’

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, Booker T. Washington!

Booker T. Washington sculpture in the Mission Inn gardens, Riverside, CA, photo by Amy Cools 2017

‘My earliest recollection is of a small one-room log hut on a large slave plantation in Virginia. After the close of the war, while working in the coal-mines of West Virginia for the support of my mother, I heard in some accidental way of the Hampton Institute. When I learned that it was an institution where a black boy could study, could have a chance to work for his board, and at the same time be taught how to work and to realize the dignity of labor, I resolved to go there. Bidding my mother good-by, I started out one morning to find my way to Hampton, though I was almost penniless and had no definite idea where Hampton was. By walking, begging rides, and paying for a portion of the journey on the steam-cars, I finally succeeded in reaching the city of Richmond, Virginia. I was without money or friends. I slept under a sidewalk, and by working on a vessel next day I earned money to continue my way to the institute, where I arrived with a surplus of fifty cents. At Hampton I found the opportunity — in the way of buildings, teachers, and industries provided by the generous — to get training in the class-room and by practical touch with industrial life, to learn thrift, economy, and push. I was surrounded by an atmosphere of business, Christian influence, and a spirit of self-help that seemed to have awakened every faculty in me, and caused me for the first time to realize what it meant to be a man instead of a piece of property.’ ~ Booker T. Washington, ‘The Awakening of the Negro‘, Atlantic Monthly, Sept. 1896

Booker T. Washington was born on April 5, 1856, and went on to become one of America’s leading educators and social reformers. He was born a slave in a simple cabin and never knew his father; he and his family were freed by the end of the Civil War when he was nine years old. Washington lived the life he would go on to advocate for his fellow black citizens: one of self-determination, self-sufficiency, hard work, thriftiness, and compromise. He believed firmly in gaining the respect of others, including those predisposed to dismiss him because of his race, solely through his own character and accomplishments. Was Washington wrong to emphasize the importance of demonstrating one’s own worth by pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps over demanding equal legal rights as citizens? Perhaps the struggle for equality had always needed multiple lines of attack to crumble the whole structure of institutionalized legal, social, and subtly inculcated racism that has plagued and undermined this nation for so long. Perhaps he was simply misguided, even naive, though the latter is hard to accept given his intellectual prowess.

Be that as it may, Washington’s ideas drove him to work harder to create educational and economic opportunities for his fellow black citizens than just about anyone else we could name. And given his hard work, his integrity in staying true to his vision despite attacks from all sides, and his premature death by stress and overwork, the charge of ‘coward’ often leveled at him is, in my few, manifestly false and undeserved.

Learn more about the great yet controversial Booker T. Washington here, in fact, in praise, and in blame:

The Awakening of the Negro – by Booker T. Washington for the Atlantic Monthly, Sept. 1896

Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) – by Lawson Bush for Blackpast.org

Booker T. Washington and the White Fear of Black Charisma – by Jeremy C. Young for the African American Intellectual History Society Blog

Booker T. Washington: American EducatorEncyclopædia Britannica

Pride and Compromise – Shelby Steele’s review of Up From History: The Life of Booker T. Washington by Robert J. Norrell

Speech to the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia – September 18, 1895 – Booker T. Washington radio broadcast at American Radio Works

*I had the honor of interviewing Kenneth Morris last year; he’s an activist against modern slavery (wage slavery, sex trafficking, and other forms of coercive exploitation) and a direct descendant of both Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass, each a preeminent figure in American civil rights history and each with a radically different approach to achieving equal civil status for their fellow black citizens. However, they had three things in common: an essential pragmatism combined with as much idealism, a deep love of their people, and an abiding trust that the universal human instinct for justice would win in the end.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today

Happy Birthday, Thomas Paine!

Statue of Thomas Paine by Gutzon Borglum, 1938, Parc Montsouris, Paris, photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Statue of Thomas Paine by Gutzon Borglum, 1938, Parc Montsouris, Paris, photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Let’s remember and salute the great Thomas Paine, father of our American identity, on his birthday. Born on January 29th, 1737, his great pamphlets made the case for American independence from Britain, outlined his Lockean conception of human rights, and argued for the primacy of reason in epistemology, politics, science, and theology. He’s a primary influence in my own concept of America as a bastion of liberty, of reason, of freedom of conscience, of the idea that property rights entail the obligation to share our wealth with those who lack what they need.

Here are a few links to some articles and works of art by, about, and inspired by Thomas Paine, including some of my own work.

Common Sense – Thomas Paine (1776)

The American Crisis – Thomas Paine (1776-83)

The Rights of Man – Thomas Paine (1791)

The Age of Reason – Thomas Paine (1794)

Agrarian Justice – Thomas Paine (1795-96)

Thomas Paine – from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

To Paris, France I Go, In Search of Revolution-Era Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson – history of ideas travel series in which I follow Thomas Paine’s life and ideas in the era of the French Revolution

Thomas Paine on Basic Income, and Why Welfare is Compatible with an Individualist Theory of Human Rights – my essay on how Paine’s ideas about property rights led him to advocate the unconditional allocation of public funds for the support of the young, the old, and the disabled

Pretty Pink Rose – David Bowie and Adrian Belew (1990) – ‘She tore down Paris on the tail of Tom Paine, but the left wing’s broken, the right’s insane’

As I Went Out One Morning – Bob Dylan (1968) ‘As I went out one morning to breathe the air around Tom Paine’s, I spied the fairest damsel that ever did walk in chains’

Tom Paine’s Bones – Graham Moore (1995) Recorded by Dick Gaughan in 2001. ‘Well they say I preached revolution but let me say in my defence, all I did wherever I went was to talk a lot of Common Sense’

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass on the Constitution

Frederick Douglass Ambrotype, 1856 by an unknown photographer, image public domain via Wikimedia CommonsListen to this podcast episode here or subscribe on iTunes

Early on his career as an abolitionist speaker and activist, Frederick Douglass is a dedicated Garrisonian: anti-violence, anti-voting, anti-Union, and anti-Constitution…

[But] by the early 1850’s, the abolitionist par excellence had come to disagree with Garrison, father of American radical abolitionism, and to agree with Lincoln, proponent of preserving the Union at all costs and of the gradual phasing out of slavery.

So how does Douglass come to make what seems such a counterintuitive change in his views on the Constitution and on the role of violence, voting, and the Union in bringing an end to slavery?… Read the original essay here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and is ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!