Founder and president of Swift & Company, one of the nation's largest meat-packing firms, and inventor of the refrigerated rail car.
1839-1903 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
Gustavus Swift, Sr., was born on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts, and began working in his older brother’s butcher shop at age fourteen. By age sixteen, he opened his own butchering business. Over the next several years, Swift moved around the region, upgrading his meat processing businesses, and then in 1875, he joined the burgeoning meat packing operations at Chicago’s Union Stock Yards.
By 1878, he formed Swift Brothers and Company with younger brother Edwin, and the firm became a leader in the industry, incorporating in 1885 as Swift and Company, with Gustavus as president. G. F. Swift revolutionized the meat industry, which had been built upon shipping live animals to regional processing centers. Instead, Swift invested in the development of ice-cooled railroad cars, slaughtered all of the animals in Chicago, and then shipped the dressed beef across the nation (and eventually, abroad).
Swift also pioneered the manufacture of a wide range of by-products—from soap to glue to medicine—and he developed a vertically integrated company, with departments for purchasing, production, shipping, sales, and marketing. By the time of his death in 1903, G. F. Swift had established plants in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Omaha; and the company grossed $200 million in sales and employed 23,000 people.
Did You Know?
"The House of Swift" slaughtered as many as two million cattle, four million hogs, and two million sheep a year.
Gustavus Franklin Swift was the inventor of the refrigerated railway car (pictured above). Swift's technological innovation enabled his company to deliver fresh meat from meat-packing centers in the Midwest to large urban markets in the Northeast.