Slaughterhouse: Chicago's Union Stock Yard and the World It Made

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9780226123097: Slaughterhouse: Chicago's Union Stock Yard and the World It Made

From the minute it opened—on Christmas Day in 1865—it was Chicago’s must-see tourist attraction, drawing more than half a million visitors each year. Families, visiting dignitaries, even school groups all made trips to the South Side to tour the Union Stock Yard. There they got a firsthand look at the city’s industrial prowess as they witnessed cattle, hogs, and sheep disassembled with breathtaking efficiency. At their height, the kill floors employed 50,000 workers and processed six hundred animals an hour, an astonishing spectacle of industrialized death.

Slaughterhouse tells the story of the Union Stock Yard, chronicling the rise and fall of an industrial district that, for better or worse, served as the public face of Chicago for decades. Dominic A. Pacyga is a guide like no other—he grew up in the shadow of the stockyards, spent summers in their hog house and cattle yards, and maintains a long-standing connection with the working-class neighborhoods around them. Pacyga takes readers through the packinghouses as only an insider can, covering the rough and toxic life inside the plants and their lasting effects on the world outside. He shows how the yards shaped the surrounding neighborhoods and controlled the livelihoods of thousands of families. He looks at the Union Stock Yard's political and economic power and its sometimes volatile role in the city’s race and labor relations. And he traces its decades of mechanized innovations, which introduced millions of consumers across the country to an industrialized food system.

Although the Union Stock Yard closed in 1971, the story doesn’t end there. Pacyga takes readers to present day, showing how the manufacturing spirit lives on. Ironically, today the site of the legendary “stockyard stench” is now home to some of Chicago’s most successful green agriculture companies.

Marking the 150th anniversary of the opening of the stockyards, Slaughterhouse is an engrossing story of one of the most important—and deadliest—square miles in American history.

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About the Author:

Dominic A. Pacyga is professor of history in the Department of Humanities, History, and Social Sciences at Columbia College Chicago. He is the author or coauthor of several books on Chicago, including Chicago: A Biography and Polish Immigrants and Industrial Chicago: Workers on the South Side, 1880–1922, both published by the University of Chicago Press.


“An illuminating history of this Chicago industry long vital to the city and the nation.” (Wall Street Journal)

“In Pacyga's capable hands, the arc of the stockyards mirrors Chicago's—a model of the Industrial Revolution that fell on hard times in the late 20th century and is now reinventing itself. His writing is as streamlined and efficient as the disassembly lines that inspired the book.”
(Chicago Tribune)

“Chicago meatpacking is a well-trod subject, but historian Pacyga offers a fresh cut by focusing on the ‘Square Mile’ encompassing the Union Stock Yard and Packingtown. . . . Highly recommended.” (Choice)

“A lively and accessible introduction to the significance of Chicago’s Union Stock Yard.” (The Journal of American History)

Winner (2016 Illinois State Historical Society's Russell P. Strange Book of the Year)

“This is the thrilling story of Chicago's rise to power on the national stage; not just the ‘hog butcher to the world,’ but an industrial giant that led in technological innovations.” (Journal of Illinois History)

"For many people Henry Ford’s 1913 Detroit assembly line is a symbol of technological triumph. This book shows that Chicago’s 1865 disassembly line was an earlier more complete wonder, rapidly transporting animals, keeping them healthy and watered, dividing them into a wide variety of of products, communicating ownership and destination, and keeping meticulous accounts of all the processes. The speed and dexterity were put on display, proudly exploiting labor, advertising efficiency, making Chicago incredibly wealthy. This is a stunning account of the growth, complexity, rewards, and costs of modernity." (Garry Wills, author of Lincoln at Gettysburg)

"Pacyga is the great bard of Chicago-historian, raconteur, social critic. Slaughterhouse is a critically important book about one of the city's epic neighborhoods." (Robert Slayton, author of Back of the Yards)

"Pacyga has taken as his subject a single square mile, a small patch of urban land on the south side of Chicago, and has told an epic story—the rise of the Union Stockyards and Packingtown, their heyday as a great industrial complex and engine of modern America, their precipitous decline after World War II and their unexpected recent resurgence as a site of new industrial possibilities. It is a big story of rapid, and frequently unsettling, economic, technological, and social change, and Pacyga has told it in a vivid and compelling way." (Robert Bruegmann, University of Illinois at Chicago)

“Pacyga has written an intimate, elegant, fascinating, and informative story of one of America’s greatest industrial complexes. As Pacyga shows, the dismal, exploitative, vibrant, and contested histories of the stockyards and the meatpacking factories are illustrative of both the fractured dynamics of American industrial capitalism and the rise and fall of the great industrial city of Chicago. Slaughterhouse is vital reading for all concerned with urban, industrial, and social history.” (Robert Lewis, author of Chicago Made: Factory Networks in the Industrial Metropolis)

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