Jamestown’s Meat Industry

One never knows what may “walk in the door as a donation” for the collection of the Fenton History Center. A week or so ago we received a meat hook. So why do we accept such an artifact? It helps to tell the story of a business in town and a connection to an even larger industry in the United States and the world.

This 25 inch long, nickel plated piece of metal, bent with a hook at one end with a sharp point and an “eye” at the other end so it could be hung up, is lethal looking but not particularly eye-catching as a piece for an exhibit. The building at 33 Institute Street was once the Swift & Co. meat packing plant, beginning about 1905. Before that, from at least 1895, the Jamestown Beef Company occupied that building. Swift was the occupant until about 1970. After that the Star Refrigeration Co. was there, followed by Four-in One Screwdrivers in 1986. Guy T. Terhune was the manager for the Jamestown Beef Co. in 1903-04 and continued as the manager for Swift & Co. in 1905. The Jamestown Beef Co. had had a few other managers over the years.

The meat industry was growing at the time. In earlier days, the small farms of the area butchered their own animals for meat and some were able to sell any extra they had, either directly to a customer or to a butcher shop. Butcher was an occupation that was needed in most communities. Meat markets were separate enterprises. They were not combined with grocery stores until many years into the 20th century. In Jamestown in 1900 there were 31 Meat Markets listed in the city directory and 70 Grocers listed. By 1960, there were 17 Meat Markets and 103 listed as Groceries and Meats.

In the Research Center’s Special Collections is another item related to the meat industry with ties to Jamestown. A book with the title, The Dark Side of the Beef Trust, was written by Herman Hirschauer and published by Theodore Z. Root in Jamestown, New York in 1905. The subtitle gives an idea of what the book contained: “A treatise concerning the “canner’ cow, the cold-storage fowl, the diseased meats, the dopes and preservatives and what takes place on the other side of the partitions of the packing houses while the public is being entertained by tinsel and music and a parade of prize steers for government inspection.”

Herman Hirschauer was a butcher by occupation. He came to this country from Germany in 1865 at the age of 17. By 1879, he was living and working in Jamestown. For a few years, he and William Gardner, another butcher, had a shop on North Main Street. By 1890, Hirschauer was the manager of the Jamestown Beef Company. He retired from that position in 1893. In 1900, he was a saloon keeper and had liquor store at 12 South Main Street.

The book written in 1905 exposed many alleged practices of the “beef trust”, the large meat packing houses of the times. The alleged practices were later investigated by a congressional commission. Herman Hirschauer died in August 1930. The book was mentioned in his obituary which went on to say “Considerable interest was shown at the time in this matter but succeeding years and probably more rigid governmental supervision of the packing industry has relieved the packers of much of the suspicion with which they were then regarded.”

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