Founder of Morris & Company, one of the three main meat-packing companies in Chicago.
1839-1907 | Two different portraits of Nelson Morris survive in the collection. Artist: James Reeve Stuart (1834-1915), pictured below Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
Nelson Morris was born in Hechingen, Germany, and immigrated to America with his family in 1851. He moved to Chicago three years later and began working for Saddle & Sirloin inductee John B. Sherman.
In 1859, he established the meatpacking business that would become Nelson Morris & Company—one of the foundational businesses at Union Stock Yards when it opened in 1865. During the Civil War, he supplied beef to the Union Army. By 1873, company sales were $11 million, and by the turn of the century, Nelson Morris & Company had almost 100 branches across the United States, with sales approaching $100 million.
Nelson Morris owned Fairbank Canning Company and was a director of several banks that supported the industry. He also pioneered the shipping of dressed beef from Chicago to the East Coast and Europe and was an early importer of Polled Angus cattle, to his ranches in Texas and the Dakotas. Nelson Morris’s chief philanthropic interest was medical research.
Two portraits of Nelson Morris survive in the Saddle & Sirloin Collection. The earlier one, by the collection’s first artist, James Stuart, was probably not the original induction portrait, since it differs from the one published in Wentworth’s 1920 catalogue. Stuart may have painted Morris for a personal or corporate commission during the subject’s lifetime, and fortunately, that painting eventually found its way into the collection. The Grafton painting does resemble the hatless version in the 1920 catalogue, so it was likely the official post-fire replacement.
Did You Know?
Nelson Morris & Co. (Chicago), 1893. Chromolithographed trade card. Printed by Beacon Lith. Co., Boston. The trade card boasts that Nelson Morris and Company could process 10,000 animals per day. One of the innovations that permitted this speed was hog-scraping machinery, pictured in the upper right of the image. The scrapers removed hog bristles in less than fifteen seconds; by hand it would have taken much longer. After a few finishing touches when the animals emerged from the machinery, they were ready to be butchered. www.americanantiquarian.org