Windy City Historians Podcast

Episode 15: The Stockyards

In the Spring of 2020, one of the first cracks in the American economy with Covid-19 was the closing of several meatpacking plants in the United States.  The nature of the process with workers stationed in close proximity to one another, poorly ventilated spaces, and often arduous work conditions and practices became a breeding ground for the virus and created Covid hot-spots around the country.  Meanwhile, the White House exercising its executive authority via the Defense Production Act ordered slaughterhouses to remain open for fear of disrupting of the nation’s meat supply. 

This underbelly of the food chain is often overlooked, yet for more than a century Chicago was largely identified with wholesale slaughter and meat processing thanks to the Union Stock Yard & Transit Company, which opened on Christmas Day 1865.  Stockyards and the downstream processing operations would soon become a ubiquitous presence in the economy of the growing metropolis of Chicago, the commerce of the United States, and the world. 

The Union Stock Yard & Transit Company led Carl Sandburg to coin the dubious moniker for Chicago, “Hog Butcher to the World.”  Yet these operations provided an important testing ground for great ideas and smart solutions employing many great minds, including civil engineer Octave Chanute (1832-1910) and the architect Daniel Burnham (1846-1912).  The Stockyards were a prime tourist attraction in Chicago for the general public and people of note such as authors Rudyard Kipling, who was shocked by it, or Upton Sinclair, who based his novel “The Jungle” on the conditions and worker experiences there.  The Yards as locals referred to it spurred additional innovations — for instance the butchering disassembly line inspired Henry Ford to reverse the process to build automobiles which ultimately made them affordable to average Americans. 

The Union Stock Yard created huge fortunes and dynasties with names like Armour and Swift, often on the back of worker exploitation, which prompted strife and conflict and influenced the development of labor unions.  Great gusts blowing across the prairie turned small fires into great conflagrations on several occasions, and yet the Yards survived for more than a century before meeting its demise to the gradual shift of economic winds.  However in its heyday, the Yards was the place to be.  Join us in this episode to hear some more great Chicago history as we interview historian Dominic A. Pacyga, author of Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made

Links to Research and Historic Documents

Episode 14: A Brewing City

Chicago has a long history of brewing and distilling; of taverns, pubs, and saloons; of alcohol distribution and consumption so we hope you will soak up this episode on the history of alcohol and its impact on the city. This episode of the Windy City Historians podcast is a historic concoction ranging across Chicago’s history to explore the interplay of sociability and society around beer, spirits, and brewing to create, support, and shape the development of this toddling town and vice versa.

We hope this will whet your appetite and briefly quench your thirst for history through a unique take on the City of Big Shoulders. In this episode co-hosts Christopher Lynch and Patrick McBriarty talk with Chicago historian Liz Garibay to discuss her research and fascinating stories of American and Chicago history as viewed through the lens of alcohol. Learn the true origin of PBR’s Blue Ribbon — it’s NOT from the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893 — OR about the Lager Beer Riots of 1855 — as we serve up another interesting brew of Windy City history.

Cheers!

Links to Research and Historic Documents

Episode 13: Early Chicago

In this episode of our “Laying the Foundation” series of the Windy City Historians we explore an often ignored and long forgotten era and complete our interview with Dr. Ann Durkin Keating. We tap into the history of Juliette Kinzie and the city’s early wheelers and dealers as it rises up out of the swampy prairie landscape along the Y-shaped Chicago River on far southwestern shore of Lake Michigan.

Special Episode: Don’t Sneeze, Cough or Spit!

The contagion began suddenly in the northern suburbs of Chicago and floated south toward the city like an invisible cloud.  Soon restaurants, saloons, and theaters were closed and the police had the power to break up crowds and arrest individuals for spitting, coughing or sneezing in public.  Public funerals were forbidden and elective surgeries canceled.  Everyone wore face masks.  Was this Spring, 2020?  No, it was Chicago in the Autumn of 1918.

Join the Windy City Historians for this special episode as we step away from the chronological telling of Chicago history of our ongoing “Laying the Foundation” series, and instead chart the course of epidemics and outbreaks in Chicago history. In particular, we dig into the, so called, Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. This pandemic reveals many parallels between the events of 1918 and today’s struggle with the novel coronavirus (SARS Cov-2, its new official name) in 2020.  

In this episode we interview historian Joseph Gustaitis, author of Chicago’s Greatest Year, 1893 and Chicago Transformed: World War I and the Windy City to learn about Chicago’s the first health crisis in 1835 and subsequent outbreaks and diseases plaguing the young city leading up to the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918.

A cataclysmic event in 1918 and 1919 this epidemic infected one-third of the world’s population, over 500 million people and killing approximately 1% of the human population on earth, an estimated 20-to-50-million people.  In the United States alone approximately 675,000 citizens died — more Americans than were killed in WWI and WWII combined. The pandemic affected the way Americans and Chicagoan’s live and work today and was particularly lethal to people in the prime of their life.  Learn more about this incredible story 100+ years ago and the parallels and differences with today’s pandemic.

Links to Research and History Documents

We mention in this episode one known documented account of whites giving smallpox infected blankets to Native Americans. This is attributed to the letters of Jeffery Amherst a British officer stationed at Fort Pitt in later day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who under siege in 1763 during the French and Indian War (1754 – 1763) writes to Colonel Henry Bouquet. Much has been written of this legend this so a variety of sources are cited on the topic below:

Please note Ward Churchill mentioned above sadly perpetuated the myth of the U.S. Army spreading smallpox to First Nations in at least six publications between 1994 and 2003. Churchill entirely fabricated incidents which never occurred, about individuals who never existed. His sources were completely falsified, and talk about fake news, he repeatedly concealed evidence in his possession discrediting his falsified version of events.

Below are additional links and research we touch upon in this episode: