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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
MEAT PACKING. For the first thirty years it was in existence between 1833 to the 1860s, the City of Dubuque was without a recognized packing plant. Butchers killed, dressed and cured the meat needed for the local trade. Those who raised hogs in this area had to drive their animals through Dubuque to other cities where packing plants existed. (1)

Credit for establishing Dubuque by the 1860s as an important meat-packing center is generally given to William A. RYAN. From November 1, 1875, through November 17, 1876, Dubuque led Iowa in the processing of hogs for market with a total of 78,000. This number soared to 120,000 by 1884. These figures should be compared to the peak production of the DUBUQUE PACKING COMPANY during the 1970s of 9,000 hogs daily.

Ryan was not alone in the industry. In the early years, most of these companies were "winter packers" meaning that they did not operate during the summer when refrigeration for storage was lacking. (2) The animals processed in the winter were stored in ice chilled rooms and it was taken out of cure, smoked and sold. (3) Rath Packing Company began in Dubuque with its founder, George John RATH. A number of pork packing companies established themselves early in the industry. The J. H. STROBEL AND SONS PACKING COMPANY was founded in 1857 as a wholesale and retail meat-dealing firm.

In 1891 the Dubuque Butcher's Association and the Dubuque Packing and Provision Company merged to form the DUBUQUE PACKING COMPANY. Armour and Company opened a cold storage house at Third and Iowa STREETS in November 1893. H. S. Hetherington opened a plant on 4th and White in November 1894. The Trenkle sausage factory, established in 1896, was producing four thousand pounds of sausage each week by 1930. In 1911 FRITH'S UNION SLAUGHTER HOUSE provided a variety of meats to local and regional markets.

The competition to attract and then keep a meat packer was intense. Both Maquoketa and Waterloo offered $10,000 in cash and a ten-acre lot exempt from taxes for ten years to the Strobel packing company if it moved from Dubuque. The death of Ryan and the 1890 fire which led to the destruction of the Rath slaughtering plant led to a period in which Dubuque's fortunes as a meat packer rested on the Dubuque Packing Company until the establishment of the CORN BELT PACKING COMPANY in 1919.



1. "More Than Million Pounds of Pork for Distribution to Needy in Storage Here," "Telegraph Herald," October 1, 1933.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.