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Abandoned industrial icon: Armour Meat Packing Plant in East St Louis

David Goran

The Chicago-based Armour & Company was a meatpacking business founded in Chicago, in 1867, by the Armour brothers.

The company revolutionized the industry by building large plants near railroad tracks and thus expedited the delivery process at a time when every hour counted, as there was little refrigeration technology available. Photos: Paul Sableman/Flickr

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The individual buildings served various purposes, such as animal runs, cold storage, waste disposal and power generation, and were all connected by rail. The process actually generated tourism, as visitors would come to watch the assembly line in action, and Henry Ford even credited the meat packing industry as the inspiration for his car assembly line methods.

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In its early years, Armour sold every kind of consumer product made from animals: not only meats but also glue, oil, fertilizer, hairbrushes, buttons, oleomargarine, and drugs made from slaughterhouse byproducts.

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By 1880, the company had become Chicago’s most important business and had helped make Chicago and its Union Stock Yards the center of America’s meatpacking industry.

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In the early 1900s, the company expanded its Chicago operations by building a plant near the National City Stock Yards on the outskirts of East St. Louis.

 

 

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Before cities had power grids, large-scale operations like the Armour facility needed their own power plant. The generating station here was fitted with two 210-foot tall smokestacks, which were the tallest structures in the East St. Louis area for decades. The refrigeration machinery was also housed in this area, powered by the steam from the generating station boilers. The main refrigeration engine was a massive “De La Vergne” steam engine which boasted a flywheel 30 feet in diameter. Built by the Frick Company, the main engine produced up to 350 tons of cooling capacity at 60 RPM.

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The plant employed more than 4,500 people in its heyday, but after the Great Depression crippled the economy the meat industry declined.

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After World War II, Armour and Company’s fortunes began to decline. The obsolete Armour plant had become expensive to operate and was eventually shut down by the company in 1959 and in lieu of unpaid taxes the property was “donated” to the city of East St. Louis.

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Unused since Armour & Co. left nearly 57 years ago, the old structure still sits in East St. Louis today. Over time squatters and vandals would leave their marks on the buildings; nature would do the rest.

 

	

David Goran

David Goran is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News