Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made
Dominic A. Pacyga. Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and the World It Made. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press (2015).
“Context” for historians generally refers to the wider scene that helps to explain something specific. “Context” for this important work by a master of Chicago history, Dominic A. Pacyga, is the very opposite: here, the Union Stock Yard and the surrounding industrial district gave context to a period of Chicago history. It is hard to understand today how a city the size and influence of Chicago could have been so characterized by this one industry — but it was. When I was of school age in the 1950s, the stock yard was still a field trip destination. Pacyga’s list of by-products from the stockyards is revealing. Hides and skins (yes, there is a difference!) alone are three paragraphs, and each type threw off a whole industry. (Have you ever thought about “upholstery leathers?”) This is the story of an industry that brought wealth to the owners, but also was a major factor in the history of other communities. For blacks, it was a key piece of the story of the Great Migration and civil rights. It was at center stage in the story of Irish and Polish immigration. Chicago’s labor history includes a number of chapters set in the stockyards, and it also played a part in the story of Chicago women.
In his Author! Author! blog series, Museum president Gary T. Johnson highlights works that draw on our collection.