"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to: navigation, search
Photo courtesy: Joseph Jacobsmeier
GEORGE C. RATH & SONS. George John Rath (varyingly referred to as George Rath and John George Rath) was born in 1821 in Breitnau, Wurtenburg province, Germany. He came to the United States in the late 1840s and eventually settled in Dubuque, Iowa. In Dubuque, George J. Rath began a merchant business, making and selling soap and tallow candles. He also began a pork packing operation. By 1873 he had a new partner in both businesses: his son, E. F. (Edward Frederick) Rath, doing business under the name George Rath & Son.

In February 1891, the Rath’s pork packing plant and retail market in Dubuque was destroyed by fire. The event occurred at a time when many growing towns in Iowa were trying to attract meat packers to relocate or open operations in their communities. A packing plant was a major acquisition for an ambitious town. Such a business meant locally-available fresh meat, employment, and generally created a livestock market, all adding to local commerce and prosperity.

The Raths were approached by the Waterloo, Iowa, Board of Trade (a Chamber of Commerce forerunner) and were convinced to move their operation from Dubuque. Incentives included $10,000 in capital, land for a plant, and tax concessions. At some point during this process, George J. Rath decided not to leave Dubuque and not to continue in the meat packing business. His son, E.F. Rath and John W. Rath, a cousin from Ackley, Iowa, began the Waterloo venture. George C. RATH purchased the buildings in Dubuque and resumed business with his sons. (1)

The Rath Packing Company (Rath) of Waterloo opened for business on November 24, 1891, on the Cedar River. Initially, the company concentrated on hogs, but by 1908 the company was also slaughtering beef and lamb as well. Business thrived; lucrative contracts to supply meat to the Armed Forces during both World Wars helped the company grow. Growth and profitability were also spurred between the 1930s and 1950s by innovations such as the fancy dry curing of bacon and the vacuum canning of meats. By the company’s fiftieth anniversary in 1941, the small regional packing house in Waterloo had grown into the nation’s single largest meatpacking facility with branch facilities in 12 states. By the end of WORLD WAR II, Rath was the fifth largest meatpacking company in the United States.

The 1899-1900 through 1915 Dubuque City Directory listed 385 12th as the address.

The 1918 Dubuque and East Dubuque City Directory through 1942 Dubuque Classified Business Directory gave the address as 1203 Central.



1. Goodspeed, Weston Arthur, History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1911, p. 511

Rath Packing Company Records 1890-1985. Online: http://findingaids.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/manuscripts/MS562.pdf