Cudahy Packing Company

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Cudahy Packing Company was a U.S. meat packing company established in 1887 as the Armour-Cudahy Packing Company and incorporated in Maine in 1915.[1] It was founded by Patrick Cudahy (March 17, 1849 - July 25, 1919) and his brother John Cudahy, Irish immigrants from County Kilkenny whose family came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to avoid the Great Irish Famine.[2] The original business is no longer in existence, but legacies are evident in Cudahy, Wisconsin (established by Patrick Cudahy as a base for his meatpacking business that still exists as the Patrick Cudahy division of Smithfield Foods).

History[edit]

Statue of Patrick Cudahy in Sheridan Park, Cudahy, Wisconsin

The Cudahy company was established by Irish immigrant Patrick Cudahy (who was born in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1849). As an adolescent he worked at packing houses and during the off-season at nurseries. At 25 in 1874 he became Superintendent of Milwaukee's largest meat packing plant, Plankinton and Armour. He helped the business adjust to industry changes from barreled pork to cured meat and was given a one-sixteenth interest in the business.[3] In the 1870s the business moved to Chicago.[4]

Patrick's brother John Cudahy was also involved in the business and together they took it over in 1888.[3] Cudahy Bros. was split off in 1892, because Patrick "was unhappy with his business relations with William Woods Plankinton" (John's son). Patrick Cudahy bought 700 acres (2.8 km2) of land in what became Cudahy, Wisconsin, with two-thirds financing from his silent partner, John Cudahy. The oldest of Patrick's sons, Michael F. Cudahy (May 27, 1886 - May 20, 1970), a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, joined the company as Treasurer in 1908, became Vice-President in 1909, Executive Manager in 1913, and President after his father's death in 1919. Michael remained as President until 1961, when his son, Richard D. Cudahy, succeeded him. In 1971, Patrick Cudahy was acquired by pork processor Bluebird, later renamed Prestige Foods.[5] The Patrick Cudahy Co. meatpacking business is now part of Smithfield Foods, who acquired it from Bluebird in 1984.[6][7]

Growth to become one of largest packing houses[edit]

By 1922 Cudahy Packing Co. was one of the largest packing houses in the U.S. with operations in South Omaha, Kansas City, Sioux City, Wichita, Memphis, East Chicago, Salt Lake City, and Los Angeles, as well as distribution operations in 97 cities.[1] In 1956 Cudahy acquired Blue Ribbon Packing Company of Houston.[8]

The company's main business was supplying European markets with cured pork, but in the 1920s it was forced to adapt to tariffs imposed by Britain on American products ("giving preference to products imported from Commonwealth countries"). The company changed production to focus on domestic sales of "semi-perishable canned hams (one of the first U.S. packers to produce this product), sliced dried beef, Italian-style sausage and sliced bacon."[2]

In 1887 Michael Cudahy and his brothers started an Armour-Cudahy packing plant in Omaha, Nebraska.[4] The Cudahy Packing Co. was created in 1890 when Michael bought Armour's interest.[4] The company added branches across the country, including a cleaning products plant at East Chicago, Indiana, built in 1909.[4] In 1911 the company's headquarters were transferred from Omaha to Chicago.[4]

By the mid-1920s, Cudahy was one of the nation's leading food companies, with over $200 million in annual sales and 13,000 employees around the country.[4] The business was hit by the Great Depression, but the company still employed about 1,000 Chicago-area residents during the mid-1930s. Following World War II it moved its headquarters first to Omaha and then in 1965 to Phoenix, where it took the name Cudahy Co. In 1957, the company was one of 500 companies listed in the first S&P 500.[9] The company was dismantled in the 1970s, after it was purchased by General Host in 1968.[4][10] The Cudahy packing business was sold to management in 1981; it was renamed Bar-S Foods.[11][12] Bar-S was acquired by the Mexican packer Sigma Alimentos in 2010.[13]

Recent events[edit]

In 2009 a fire at the "sprawling complex of 1.4 million square feet" at the 121-year-old Patrick Cudahy meatpacking plant "drained [Milwaukee's] water supply and tested the patience of hundreds of residents forced from their homes by the threat of smoke that billowed from the blaze through a second night." The smell was described as "sometimes appetizing", but the loss was termed "devastating".[14] The cause of the fire was determined to be a military flare. In October 2009, two brothers were sentenced to 90 days in jail each for causing the fire.[15]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cudahy Packing Co. Encyclopedia of Chicago
  • Patrick Cudahy, His Life autobiography (1912)
  • History of Cudahy Packing Company and meat packing industry from the Nebraska State Historical Society (RG1605.AM)