Visionary businessman who co-founded Armour & Company in Chicago which became the largest enterprise in Chicago and one of the largest employers in the world.
1832-1901 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
Philip Danforth Armour demonstrated strong entrepreneurial qualities at age nineteen, when he left his hometown of Stockbridge, New York, for the California Gold Rush. Seeing little opportunity in panning, he established an operation to build sluices (washing cradles), and within five years, he had accumulated several thousand dollars.
Armour took his fortune to one of the gateways to the West—Milwaukee—in 1859, and launched a partnership selling fresh produce and smoked and pickled meat. Plankinton & Armour expanded the Milwaukee packing business in 1863, and four years later, he and his brothers formed Armour & Company, packing hogs at Union Stock Yards in Chicago.
Philip Armour moved to Chicago to take over the helm of the company in 1875, expanding the business to include cattle and sheep. A visionary, Armour established a network of factories to process many major by-products of the slaughterhouse—glue, fertilizer, soap, etc.—gaining strength in the market by keeping meat prices low.
When the refrigerated railcar was invented, he built his own fleet. He also invested in the grain trade, adding several grain elevators to Chicago’s skyline.
Starting with a bequest left by his brother, Philip Armour founded a mission house that grew into the Armour Institute of Technology—a technical college providing training in mechanical, electrical, civil, and chemical engineering. When Armour died in 1901, Armour & Co. was Chicago’s largest enterprise, and the company’s national operation was one of the largest employers in the world.
Did You Know?
Armour's innovations including bringing live hogs to the metropolis for slaughter, inventing an assembly line system for the dis-assembly of hogs, canning the product, economy of scale and efficiency in detail. He systematically utilized waste products, boasting that he made use of "everything but the squeal". The introduction of refrigerated rail cars opened a national market for him and competitors such as Gustavus Swift. Armour expanded into banking and speculation on the futures market for pork and wheat by 1900, his plants employed 15,000 workers; his own wealth was in the range of $50 million.
Privately, the eccentrically bighearted Armour began each day with a pile of 100 crisp $1 bills, which he handed out one-by-one to various individuals he encountered as the hours passed. And, when an employee particularly pleased him, he would send the man to his personal tailor for a complimentary suit, or, after the cycling craze began, order him a gift bicycle. - Excerpt from "House of Armour: The Rise of Four Dazzling Dynasties During an American Epoch When Everything Was Possible", by Megan McKinney for Classic Chicago magazine.
To get his products to market, Armour followed the lead of rivals George Hammond and Gustavus Swift when he established the Armour Refrigerator Line in 1883. Armour's endeavor soon became the largest private refrigerator car fleet in America. By 1900, the company listed over 12,000 units on its roster (one-third of all the privately owned cars in the country), all built in Armour's own car plant.
Courtesy of Eudaimonia.