Abstract: Industrial Pollution and the Role of Public Health Regulators and the Courts in the Development of the Meatpacking Industry, 1860-1880

Christine Rosen


This paper will provide a fresh perspective on the history of the meatpacking industry by placing innovation relating to the processing of animal waste by-products in the context of private litigation against the industry's stench problems and the public health movement's effort to enact regulations to protect urban populations from the filth-borne disease epidemics ravaging their cities prior to the bacteriological revolution of the 1880s and 1890s. Utilizing case law records, I will show that meatpackers initially adopted very primitive techniques for utilizing waste that resulted in the emission of air and water pollution whose foul smells caused great discomfort in the vicinity of their operations. Only under the pressure of regulation, angry communities of protest, and the courts did companies adopt the more sophisticated waste processing and pollution abatement technologies associated with the emergence of Armour, Swift, and the other large- scale vertically integrated meatpacking firms that came to dominate the industry at the end of the century.