Map of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The eastern hub was St. Paul. (Online)

In truth, the class warfare being waged in Chicago at this time was only exacerbating the effects that “Manifest Destiny” were already beginning to impact Chicago.  For as the railroad giveth, the railroad can just as easily taketh.  Chicago was destined to suffer a similar fate to that which it had just inflicted on its two older rivals, Cincinnati and St. Louis.  Western expansion didn’t just stop when it arrived at the corner of La Salle and Jackson Streets, but continued ever westward, leaving Chicago in its dust.  Chicago’s tool of economic expansion, the railroad, at the city’s own urging I might add, simply continued to move west, diluting Chicago’s geographical and commercial advantage.  As the railroads continued to open up the West, real estate speculation moved with them.  By 1885, two more transcontinental railroads were being completed, creating greater investment potentials in the termini of the Northern Pacific Railroad (that William Ogden had chartered in 1856) for, St. Paul and Minneapolis (that Ogden’s C&NW would connect back to Chicago) and in Kansas City, the center of the Atkinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (funded by the same Bostonians who had built the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy).  While Chicago was mired in class warfare, developers sought the more secure markets emerging in the hubs of these two new transcontinental railroad routes.  Naturally, the expertise of Chicago’s architects in the design of big buildings followed their clients, as did the technology that they were developing for the construction of skyscrapers.  These ideas and techniques would be perfected in buildings constructed not in Chicago, but in these newly-emerging boom towns.

Map of the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad. Kansas City is located at the far right upper corner. (Online)


Map of Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. (Online)

Kansas City’s fortune was secured in 1868 when the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad (the Bostonians’ next link that connected at Hannibal, MO, across the Mississippi from Quincy, IL, with the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy) decided to build a bridge over the Missouri River at Kansas City, rather than at Leavenworth, Kansas.  The immediate result of this decision was that all cattle being raised in Texas for consumption back East would eventually funnel through Kansas City on their way to Chicago.  Cattle would have to be driven from their grazing land in Texas to a railhead in Kansas, such as Abilene, or directly to Kansas City.  The cattle would then be shipped live via the railroad to Chicago to be either slaughtered, or rerouted live to the east coast.  Shipping cattle live was not economically efficient, however, simply because much of the weight of the live steer was not used, and cattle were bruised and lost weight while in transit.  The person responsible for changing the calculus of this process was Gustavus Swift, Philip Armour’s main competitor in Chicago’s meat packing business.  The solution to the economic problem of shipping live cattle was easy: to ship only the dressed meat, and not any of the inedible material of the steer.  The nut to crack was how to keep the meat from spoiling?  Transporting pork had been solved long ago with the use of salting.  Salted beef, however, just didn’t meet the tastes of Americans who had grown up eating fresh beef.  The solution seemed to be some type of chilled storage, but the solution of a viable refrigerated railroad car had eluded American engineers for over 35 years.  

A refrigerated railroad car, ca. mid-1870s. Ice tanks were located at each end of the car, access for which was gained by hatches in the roof. (Online)

Finally, in 1878 Swift hired engineer Andrew Chase to solve the problems with the refrigerated car, which he did.  This finally allowed only the dressed beef, and not the unusable parts, to be shipped cheaper anywhere from Chicago’s slaughterhouses.  It didn’t take long for meatpackers to figure out that even greater profits could be had by slaughtering the cattle closer to where they grazed, rather than shipping them live to Chicago and suffer the corresponding economic loss of a reduction in weight and quality.  Kansas City seemed to be the ideal location for the next generation of slaughterhouses, as Philip Armour had confirmed only six months after the Haymarket Square bombing

“The day of Chicago’s supremacy as a porkpacking center will soon be a thing of the past…  The corn belt has moved west and with it hog raising.  It is history repeating itself.  Only a few years Chicago took away the supremacy from Cincinnati and St. Louis.  To show this is not idle talk brought on by present troubles, I will say I have not added a single brick to my packing house here in Chicago while in Kansas City, where I already had $1.5 million worth of packing house property, I have built $300,000 worth additional this summer, and between now and next January will build another $300,000.”

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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