I’m sure most everyone in this country has eaten beef from Iowa Beef Processors, Inc. They were acquired by Tyson Foods in 2001 (now known as Tyson Fresh Meats). Way back in the 1950’s, a man by the name of Currier J. Holman, born in Sioux City, Iowa had spent many years developing a vision behind a new way of “meatpacking”. The standard business model of the “Big 5” meat packers (Swift, Armour, Wilson, Morrell,and Cudahy) of that era involved the transport by truck and rail of “swinging meat” beef carcasses all over the country for local store processing by mostly union member butchers. I entered the trucking industry in 1981 and still remember seeing the old refrigerated trailers with vertical rails along the ceiling to hold the meat hooks for swinging beef. And I remember the older drivers telling me how dangerous trailers full of swinging meat were on curves and corners in the old days!
The following first part is thanks to nebraskastudies.org and a link to their site follows. Photos, courtesy Nebraska State Historical Society and Hankstruckpictures.com:
In 1961, a new operation, Iowa Beef Processors, Inc (soon known as IBP) emerged, forty-five miles to the east and north of Omaha, in Denison, Iowa. Its founders set out to completely rethink meatpacking.
IBP located in Dennison to be close to the production of both corn and cattle. Traditional packing houses were multi-story buildings in which livestock were driven up a long ramp to the top floor. They would also slaughter different species in the same building, requiring different departments. They then used gravity to move the carcass from killing room to chiller and then into a railcar.
Iowa Beef Packers, as its name suggests, slaughtered only beef, and its facility was all on the ground level and completely refrigerated. By refrigerating from the beginning, they were able to prevent shrinkage due to dehydration. They also invested heavily in automation and created a true disassembly line where each person had one specific task in the butchering process.
With their line processing of beef, they dramatically reduced the skill level that a meat processor needed, opening up the potential pool of workers. In Dennison, they found an eager labor force drawn largely from people with experience in agriculture. Importantly, this labor force was not organized into a union. A non-unionized, lower-skilled workforce meant the company could pay lower wages, and the automated design meant higher employee output, giving IBP a substantial market advantage.
They also economized by going directly to the rancher or farmer to buy cattle, thus eliminating the stock yards from the transactions. And with large trucks, they transported their cattle straight from the feedlot to the processing plant, further increasing efficiency.
IBP revolutionized the industry by developing boxed beef. Transporting carcasses to butchers was grossly inefficient. It meant that the slaughterhouse shipped a lot of waste material, and carcasses did not fit efficiently into the rectangular spaces of refrigerated trucks and rail cars. By cutting the carcasses into smaller pieces that fit nicely into boxes, they were able to pack substantially more beef into a truck, dramatically reducing the cost-per-pound paid for transportation. And because they were doing more of the processing at their plant, the beef required less skilled labor at the meat counter.
In 1967, IBP opened a new, highly automated and immense plant at Dakota City, Nebraska, a small town just across the Missouri River from Sioux City, Iowa, another major meat-producing city. This became their flagship plant and headquarters.
IBP’s innovations seriously threatened traditional meatpacking jobs, and national unions knew that. Soon, the Dakota City plant became the location of dramatic, sometimes violent, strikes.
The union had some issues, for sure, but the continuing strike was a mystery for Mr. Holman. No matter what concession was offered, it was flatly rejected, seemingly without common sense reasoning. Henry Ford was celebrated for inventing the assembly line procedure for automobiles that made cars affordable for the average citizens of this great country. Holman found himself embroiled in dispute when he employed the same principles in the meat industry. Technology, efficiency and progress certainly was not good for professional butchers, but it would be foolish to think you can stop it. What follows in Part 2, tomorrow, will explain the enormous criminal scam perpetrated by the New York Mafia with their vast union control that siphoned off many millions of mid-western dollars! The New York union leaders didn't give hoot about the butcher's jobs. It was all about bribes, payoffs and getting their piece of the action!
Other Related Mob Story Posts:
The New York Mob and Iowa Beef Processors - Part II
"Mr. Fancy Pants" Balistrieri - Tracking Milwaukee's most dangerous mobster
The Beef That Didn't Moo - Wisconsin Ties to the Mob
Tales of the Milwaukee Mob and Two Cigarette Men!
Married to the Daughter of a Milwaukee Mob Boss-Our Pediatrician!
The Milwaukee Queen Bee of Organized Crime
Tale of a Failed Milwaukee Mob Hit!
Lieutenant Uhura (of the Starship "Enterprise") - close encounters with the Chicago and Milwaukee Mob!
Part Two: The Milwaukee Mob and Lieutenant Uhura (Star Trek)