Gustavus Franklin Swift and the Meat Packing Revolution

Gustavus Franklin Swift was an American entrepreneur who founded Swift & company, once a giant meat company. He was born in Massachusetts, USA on June 24, 1839. Although he was only a high school graduate, he became a very wealthy person through hard work and shrewdness.

Gustavus Swift
Gustavus Swift (Credit: wiki commons)

Gus, as he is commonly called, was the 9th of 12 children. He came from a family of farmers who raised and butchered animals for a living. After 8th grade, he stopped going to school and went to work instead in a number of jobs. At 14, he apprenticed as a butcher in his brother’s meat shop. Two years later, he started his own meat shop. Working 16 hours a day, he expanded his business by adding several branches. He also developed a knack for valuing cattle that he was buying. Focusing on the supply chain of beef, he formed a new venture with James Hathaway, a Boston meat dealer and moved their cattle buying center westward to Albany, New York and later to Buffalo City. When Chicago became a railroad hub, the partners moved there and made the city their buying and distribution center.

In 1878, Swift left the partnership and formed another partnership with his brother. In 1885, he incorporated the business as Swift and Company which was then one of the largest meat packers in the world.

As a shrewd businessman, Swift employed many tactics to gain more profits, expand the business and win over the competition. In order to have more weight, he would deny water to his cattle several days and then give them lots of water hours before slaughter. He was a pioneer in the use of animal by-products. He was the first to used successfully refrigerated railroad cars to bring his meat to the eastern market such as New York City and Boston. This was truly revolutionary because it drastically brought down cost and wastage. Before vertical integration became a by-word in business management, it was already implemented at Swift and Company.

Gustavus Franklin Swift had 11 children with his wife Annie Maria Higgins. He died in Illinois at age 63.

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