Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Food And Kindred Products

( Originally Published 1918 )



Importance of the food industries. This group of industries embraces the manufacture of all kinds of food products except liquors and beverages. Of the fourteen leading groups of American industries distinguished by the Census Bureau this is the most important, judged by the annual value of its product; for the various industries here included produce a value of close upon $5,000,000,000 a year. The simplest classification of these industries is into (1) the manufacture of animal products and (2) the manufacture of vegetable products. There are numerous special industries under each of the two general heads, for the description of all of which several large volumes would be insufficient ; we shall select outstanding examples from each of the two.

Early slaughtering and meat-packing. From the standpoint of value of product the slaughtering and meat-packing industry is now the most important in the first group ; and it finds its greatest development in the killing, curing, and packing of hogs, although the similar treatment of cattle and sheep is no small enterprise. Naturally pork-packing came out of the original domestic industry, if it might be so called, of filling the local pork-barrel for the family use. Shortly before 1700 Boston was doing a considerable business in curing pork and packing it in barrels.

The westward movement. Then the Middle West began the industry in 1818, at Cincinnati ; it does not seem to have taken root in Chicago until several years later. In the winter of 1832–1833 Cincinnati slaughtered 85,000 hogs. When, now, the agricultural resources of the Middle West started in their development, there was plenty of food, especially corn, for the domestic animals, and farmers observed the profit to be gained by raising hogs for Eastern and Southern demand. Of this something has already been said. And the fact that shipping required water transportation caused the industry to settle on the rivers ; goods went to market by way of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, even when the final destination was ' Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, or Boston. It appears that the river flatboat was not seldom the real packing house, as the curing was done on board while the meat was on the way to market ; or, more often perhaps, the curing, was done on board the boats in winter so that the meat would be ready for marketing when the spring thaws freed the river for navigation. The cured product was often sold to merchants located at strategic shipping points, such as St. Louis and New Orleans, in exchange for merchandise such as rice, sugar, and molasses, which were much in demand in the up-river country.

Concentration at Chicago. For the decade 1842-1852 Cincinnati packed over a quarter of the total pork of the West, reaching a figure of 475,000 hogs slaughtered in 1848–1849 ; but soon thereafter the railroads penetrated the West and, since markets now became available independently of waterways, changed the geographical position of the industry. In 1850-1851 Chicago slaughtered 20,000 hogs and afterwards developed the industry very rapidly; Cincinnati held first place till 1861-1862, after which Chicago was not to be overtaken. Thus the center of the industry, having been in the Ohio Valley, moved westward to the great stock-raising centers. It is much cheaper to send packed meat to distant markets than it is to assemble the animals for slaughtering at points nearer the consumers, but which may be a thousand or thousands of miles from the animal-raising districts. This industry thus adapted its location to considerations of comparative cost of production. The development throughout the country has been strong ; about sixty years ago the capital invested in the business was only $3,500,000, while to-day it is over $500,000,000. The industry has reached such enormous proportions that the annual value of its product is $1,650,000,000, it supports nearly 100,000 wage-earners, and there are over 1200 establishments.

Rapidity of the processes. Labor-saving devices have been perfected to a nicety ; the killing is still done by hand, but there are, as we have already seen, many ingenious devices for handling the carcasses. The animals are prepared for the chill-rooms at the rate of about twenty a minute. The factor which, perhaps more than any other, has stimulated the packing industry in the last few decades is the development of the process of artificial refrigeration. The carcass has to be properly and thoroughly chilled ; but the packing season is now twelve months long, summer-cured meat differing in no essential respect from winter-cured. The problem of so cutting up the animals as to cater to the peculiar tastes of the numerous sections and nations to which the packing products are sent is a matter demanding considerable study and care. As in pork-packing, so in beef-packing, the refrigerating methods, and especially the refrigerator car, have been of great significance ; meat handled by way of refrigeration is in far better condition than the product which the packers used to provide years ago, when living animals were shipped by rail for two thousand miles or so.

Elimination of waste. In the packing industry as a whole waste has been rigorously eliminated, and allied industries have developed in connection with the packing houses. "The fierceness of competition," says an expert, " may force the packing house of twenty-five years hence to include a tannery, a boot and shoe factory, a cloth mill, and a mammoth tailor shop."

Flour manufacture. So much for a typical and ranking animal-food industry ; we come now to the manufacture of food from vegetable products. Here we have selected the flour and gristmill production as the most important, measured by value of output, and as a basic form upon which many others, such as baking, rest. At the present time flour and gristmill products reach an annual value of nearly $900,00o,000 ; there are about 40, 000 wage-earners employed in making them. Our enormous cereal crops have given rise to an extensive milling, and each advance of grain production has been followed by a corresponding increase of machinery and establishments for its manufacture.

Development of milling. The first way of milling. grain was with the teeth, — the large back teeth, which we still call grinders, or molars, — but it was not long till men came to use two stones for the purpose. They have used two stones up to recent times and have not by any means given up this method even yet. The first flour mill in American history was the hand mill — two small stones, one fitted with a handle so that it could conveniently be rubbed on the other. But in early colonial times there were gristmills run by wind power.

These were usually subject to toll laws, which established the charge for grinding grain ; thus, though the rates were not uniform, in New England the toll was .usually one sixteenth of the wheat and one twelfth of the Indian corn ground. Bolting, the process of sifting the crushed grain, was ordinarily done in the home. In the South very high tolls were exacted ; in Maryland in early times the toll was one sixth of the grain. Later on, the water mill succeeded the earlier devices, and flour became, even as early as the latter part of the seventeenth century, a considerable export.

Milling centers. The flour mills of Delaware on the Brandy-wine were very celebrated in the period succeeding the Revolution. Twelve such mills, with twenty-five pairs of stones, ground 400,000 bushels of wheat per annum. The town of Wilmington was exporting 20,000 barrels of superfine flour a year. There were 130 mills within a radius of forty miles, and contemporary opinion had it that the manufacture of flour was carried to a higher degree of perfection on the Brandywine than in any other state in the Union. Baltimore also became prominent in early times as a milling center ; in 1769 she exported 40,000 tons of flour and bread. Baltimore flour was regarded as of superior quality, and that city was the first milling point to adopt the mechanical improvements devised by Oliver Evans, who, about 1785, by the introduction of the elevator, conveyer, and other mechanisms, combined the various stages of the process into a continuous system, dispensing with half of the labor formerly required and enabling the miller, by machinery alone, to take the grain through " from wagon to wagon again." Next to Delaware and Baltimore came Richmond, whose flour was in great demand in both home and foreign markets until relatively recent times ; in 1845 the mills of Richmond included the largest in the country and their flour commanded the highest prices. The great market for Richmond flour was in South America.

The fame of Rochester. Rochester and the Genesee Valley sprang into fame for their flour production nearly a century ago and attained and held celebrity on two continents for a half-century. Genesee Valley flour repeatedly took prize medals at European expositions. Rochester was favored for production by the fact that the Genesee River had, within the city limits, successive falls aggregating 268 feet ; also the Erie Canal, the Genesee River, and the railroads brought to the Rochester mills not only the local wheat of the famous valley but also that of Ohio and Canada. Within twenty-five years after the War of 1812 Rochester erected twenty-one flour mills, with a daily capacity of 5000 barrels. In 186o there were nineteen mills, with a yearly product valued at $2,500,000. Rochester continued to be the Flour City of the continent until the growth of its nursery business caused it to be denominated the Flower City.

Westward movement of milling. With the Western movement of the grain production there went a corresponding migration of the milling industry. As early as 184o Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan together produced 2,000,000 barrels of flour, which constituted about 30 per cent of the total output of the country. Twenty years later the Western states, so called, were producing more flour and other milling products than the New England and Middle States combined. New York was still the leader in value of flour produced, but Ohio stood second, and half or more of the flour manufactured in the United States was produced west of the Alleghenies.

Routes of shipment. Long before the flour-milling industry developed in the Northwest, cities like Cincinnati and St. Louis were active, for the first trend of flour production toward the West was down the Ohio River ; a steam flour mill was in operation in Cincinnati as early as 1815. Barges took the flour down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans before the time when the canals and railroads began to stimulate industrial development in the upper Mississippi region. But after 1856 Cincinnati was shipping wheat north and east, and New Orleans was declining in its function as a shipping port for flour. The navigation of the rivers was uncertain and hazardous, as we may learn from Mark Twain's account of piloting on the Mississippi, and the warmth and moisture of the Gulf and lower-river climate were dangerous to the grain and flour. When, therefore, the Lakes, canals, and railroads could be utilized for transportation, the direction of the shipments at once changed. St. Louis continued to manufacture and ship flour, however, and before Minneapolis came to the front as a milling center, was the leading flour manufacturing point in the country.

The rise of Minneapolis. The opening of the Erie Canal, in 1825, meant a powerful stimulus to the development of the northwestern part of the country, and wheat and flour were among the chief articles of freight. By 1845 Ohio stood next to New York as a wheat producer and soon thereafter rose to the top ; in 186o the four leading wheat-producing states were Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio, all northwest of the Ohio River. Chicago had, we have seen, started to manufacture flour before the middle of the century, and Milwaukee became prominent soon after the Civil War. But it was Minneapolis, favored by position in relation to the wheat belt and advantaged by reason of its abundance of water power in the shape of the Falls of St. Anthony, that was destined to become the chief milling center of the land. The industry started at Minneapolis with a small government plant, in 1823, but it was twenty years later that the first custom grist-mill was built ; and the first shipment of flour, 100 barrels to Boston, was made in 1859. In 1865 there were running six mills whose daily capacity was 800 barrels, and three years later thirteen, with a capacity of 220,000 barrels. Then came into action the big mills which have made Minneapolis famous.

Improvements in milling. Pillsbury, a milling expert, speaks of these improvements as follows :

Down to 1870 the milling process in the United States was that invented by Oliver Evans with some minor and gradual improvements. From 1787 the nether and upper millstones, the former stationary and the latter balanced to rotate upon it, ground the flour of America. The stones were set close together to produce as much flour as possible at one grinding. This produced friction and heat and brought about chemical changes which injured the color, taste, and quality of the flour. In the early milling history of Minneapolis, when enterprising manufacturers rushed the speed of stones to secure a large product, the flour came out dark, and so hot the hand could not be held in it. Under these conditions of milling the hard spring wheat, especially, made a dark-colored flour which could command only a low price. The passing of the millstone. Experiments were made to obviate these difficulties and resulted, about 187o, in the introduction of chilled-iron and porcelain rollers in place of the stones.

Pillsbury goes on to say :

The grain, in place of being ground in a single pair of millstones, was run through six or seven sets of rollers, being sifted and graded after each breaking by the rollers. The old process aimed to get as much flour as possible at one grinding ; the new seeks to get as little flour as possible at the first two or three breakings. The old millstones were set so close together that the weight of the upper stone rested almost wholly upon the grain. The first rollers in the new process are set so far apart that the kernel is simply split for the liberation of the germ and crease. The old process sought to avoid middlings as far as possible, because they entailed loss of flour. The new process seeks to produce as much middlings as possible, because out of the middlings comes the high-grade patent flour.

This new process, in such striking contrast with the old, lent itself to the rapid development of the milling industry.

The export of flour. For the first half of the last century flour was one of our leading exports, but during the third. quarter of the century the export trade fell off, largely because of the rapid progress in the technic of milling in Europe. There they were developing new processes while we clung to the old ; and so they imported our wheat and ground it themselves. But with our adoption of improved processes, after 1870, the export trade in flour took on a new lease of life.

Present condition of milling. Mills are in operation at the present day in every state of the Union. Minnesota is the leader in "value of product, followed by New York and Kansas. The principal grain ground or milled by us is wheat, and corn takes second place. Our flour- and grist-mills have constituted one of the most valuable industries of the land; for a time it led all other manufacturing industries in value of annual product, but shortly before the close of the nineteenth century the leadership was taken by the slaughtering and meat-packing establishments. These mills, it may be added in conclusion, produce great quantities of breakfast :foods, such as rolled oats and similar articles.

Other food industries. There are, of course, many other branches of the food (and kindred products) industry dependent upon vegetable materials. Let one scan the catalogue of some great mail-order house and see for himself. We shall mention several of the most important and illustrative : the manufacture of bread and bakery products ; the manufacture of confectionery and ice cream ; the canning and preserving of fruits and vegetables. Of sugar-refining we have made some mention in the foregoing, and the industries connected with the roasting and grinding of coffee and spice are by no means insignificant.

Conservation of food. The consumption of food in this country has always been lavish, and generally wasteful. Where corn was cheap enough to burn —where they had corn to burn, so to speak — nobody was going to make a great effort to save. Too much food was eaten for the health of the eaters ; and then, again, much was half eaten and thrown away. Tons of coal have been rejected along with the ashes, and tons of food along with the garbage, not only by families that were comfortably off but even by those of the poor. Tastes have become finical and much stress has been laid upon the form in which food was presented for sale ; this has led to an immense industry in making up food into novel or even weird form and to the prevalent habit of buying cereals and other foods in packages or jars, all of which have to be paid for in the form of higher prices. The development of the art of advertising in connection with food products is both remarkable and even romantic, though it may not be edifying or speak well for the common sense of the buying public. But the Great War precipitated a food shortage, and we were obliged to give some thought to conservation ; a food controller clothed with wide powers was appointed. It may be one of the wholesome results of the calamity that befell the civilized world that we shall learn to value more highly our food supplies at something more nearly approximating their worth, and treat them accordingly.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com