Philip Danforth Armour

Philip Danforth Armour Sr. (16 May 1832 – 6 January 1901) was an American meatpacking industrialist who founded the Chicago-based firm of Armour & Company. Born on an upstate New York farm, he made $8000 in the California gold rush, 1852–56. He opened a wholesale grocery business in Cincinnati, then moved it to Milwaukee. He made millions selling meat to the United States Army during the Civil War. In 1875, he moved his base to Chicago. Armour's innovations including bringing live hogs to the metropolis for slaughter, inventing an assembly line system for the dis-assembly of hogs, canning the product, economy of scale and efficiency in detail. He systematically utilized waste products, boasting that he made use of "everything but the squeal". The introduction of refrigerated rail cars opened a national market for him and competitors such as Gustavus Swift. Armour expanded into banking and speculation on the futures market for pork and wheat by 1900, his plants employed 15,000 workers; his own wealth was in the range of $50 million. The urgent Army need for meat during the Spanish–American War of 1898 led to highly publicized complaints about "embalmed beef." Armour retired from business in 1899, and devoted himself to philanthropy in the Chicago area, including local cost housing for industrial workers, and the major institution of higher education, the Armour Institute of Technology.

Philip Danforth Armour
Philip Danforth Armour.jpg
Born(1832-05-16)May 16, 1832
DiedJanuary 6, 1901(1901-01-06) (aged 68)
Spouse(s)Malvina Bell Ogden
ChildrenJ. Ogden Armour (1863–1927)
Philip Danforth Armour Jr. (1869–1900)
RelativesSimeon B. Armour (1828–1899) (brother)
Andrew Watson Armour (1829–1892) (brother)
Herman Ossian Armour (1837–1901) (brother)
Joseph Frances Armour (1842–1881) (brother)

Life and careerEdit

Armour was born in Stockbridge, New York to Danforth Armour and Juliana Ann Brooks. He was one of eight children and grew up on his family's farm. Armour was descended from colonial settlers of Scottish and English origin, with his surname originating in Scotland. He was educated at Cazenovia Academy in New York until the school expelled him for taking a ride in a buggy.[1] Among his first jobs was that of Driver on upstate New York's Chenango Canal which ran through Madison County at that time and would have been a busy thoroughfare. At the age of 19, Armour left New York with about 30 other people for California, joining the great California gold rush. Before the journey, Armour "had received several hundred dollars from his parents," making him, for the most part, "the financier of the party," according to biographer Edward N. Wentworth.[2] In California, Armour eventually started his own business, employing out-of-work miners to construct sluices, which controlled the waters that flowed through the mined rivers. In only a few years, Armour had turned his business into a profitable enterprise, earning himself about $8,000 by the time he had turned 24.[3]

With his sizable fortune in hand, Armour then moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, starting a wholesale grocery business. In Milwaukee, Armour formed business partnerships with Frederick Miles in the grain business in 1859. He worked with Miles for three years before he partnered with John Plankinton in the meatpacking industry, creating the company Plankinton, Armour & Company. Philip helped Plankinton start up "a new plant on the Menominee River so that the firm could handle government pork contracts."[4] They experienced prompt success through the distribution of sought after meats, produce, and grains to westward-moving settlers and fortune-seekers. It was also during this period when Armour married Malvina Belle Ogden in 1862.[5] Armour demonstrated his uncanny ability as a young businessman by taking advantage of changing meat prices during and after the Civil War. According to Deborah S. Ing, author of Philip Armour's biography in the American National Biography Online, "the most important business coup of Armour's early career occurred near the end of the Civil War when he predicted heavy Confederate losses and thus the dropping of pork prices…he made contracts with buyers at $40 per barrel before prices plummeted to $18 when the war ended in a Union victory. This deal netted him a profit of $22 per barrel or a total of $1 million to $2 million."[5] Armour's savvy decision elevated the status of Plankinton, Armour & Co., allowing the firm to expand into other cities.

Later with his brother, Herman, he again entered the grain business and built several meat packing plants in the Menomonee River Valley. After individually prospering in three different regions, Philip, Herman and Joseph reconvened in 1867 to form the flagship Armour & Company in Chicago, which packed hogs exclusively for the first eight years of its existence.[6] The company which soon became the world's largest food processing and chemical manufacturing enterprise, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Armour & Co. was the first company to produce canned meat and also one of the first to employ an "assembly-line" technique in its factories.

In order to get his meat products to market Armour followed the lead of rival Gustavus Swift when he established the Armour Refrigerator Line in 1883. Armour's endeavor soon became the largest private refrigerator car fleet in the U.S., which by 1900 listed over 12,000 units on its roster, all built in Armour's own car plant. The General American Transportation Corporation would assume ownership of the line in 1932.

His meatpacking plants pioneered new principles of large-scale organization and refrigeration to the industry. Firstly, Armour implemented the assembly line in order to speed up production. Additionally, Armour was one of the first to take action to reduce the tremendous waste inherent in the slaughtering of hogs and to take advantage of the resale value of what had been waste products. His biggest concern was ensuring that every part of the animal was made useful, "thus, out of meatpacking came auxiliary industries such as glue, fertilizer, margarine, lard, [and] gelatin."[7] Armour famously declared that he made use of "everything but the squeal". By developing these profitable manufacturing innovations and expanding the reach of his company, Armour & Co. became one of the largest meatpacking firms in America by the 1890s. It earned an estimated $110 million in 1893 and established Armour's position as one of the great industrialists of the Gilded Age.[8]

Labor issuesEdit

Since the end of the Civil War, labor activists in Chicago had been fighting for powerful labor unions that would negotiate the eight-hour day and higher wages.[9] At a time when the living wage for a five-member family was $15.40 a week, the workers at Armour & Company only earned about $9.50 a week.[3] After Armour's butchers had publicly called for better pay and improved job security in the early 1880s, Armour kicked out the union workers and blacklisted the leaders of the strike.[10] In the weeks before the Haymarket bombing of May 4, 1886, Armour had even encouraged his colleagues to equip a militia to suppress future labor actions. In the book Death in the Haymarket, historian James Green notes that the supplies included "a good machine gun, to be used by them in case of trouble".[11] Over the course of his career, Armour had broken three major strikes that had directly concerned his factories, blacklisting all of the union leaders involved.[3] The New York Times emphasized in its reporting how greatly Armour "cares for his labor" without any sense of irony.[12] "Although his workers lived and worked in squalid conditions," the PBS series American Experience reports, "Armour was known as a philanthropist".[3]

Embalmed beef scandalEdit

The company's reputation was tarnished further in 1889. Nelson A. Miles, a captain in the United States Army, claimed that all the major meatpacking companies of Chicago—including Armour's—were sending chemically treated meat to soldiers overseas. An investigation followed, but found no definite verdict was reached. Skeptics would claim that Armour simply bribed the panel while Armour would defend his innocence for the rest of his life. Even so, the damage was done. The evidence that was found provided fodder for the muckraking novel by Upton Sinclair entitled The Jungle, which was published in February 1906 and became a bestseller. Armour's reputation never recovered from the 1889–1899 scandal.[5]

Death and legacyEdit

Malvina Belle Ogden, Armour's wife

In 1893, Armour donated $1 million to found the Armour Institute of Technology (a privately endowed coeducational college), which merged with the Lewis Institute to become Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1940. He also created the Armour Mission, an educational and healthcare center. In 1900 his son, Philip D. Armour Jr., died.[13] Armour died on January 6, 1901 of pneumonia at his Chicago home.[14] He was survived by his wife, Malvina Belle Ogden whom he had married in 1862, and by one son, J. Ogden Armour.

The town of Armour, South Dakota was named for him in 1885, and the town of Armourdale, Kansas (now the district of Armourdale in Kansas City, Kansas) in 1881. Streets in Cudahy, Wisconsin (a Milwaukee suburb founded by meat packing magnate Patrick Cudahy) as well as Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, where the Armour family had a summer estate, also bear his name. The streets of north Redondo Beach, California are named after prominent American businessmen of the industrial revolution. Armour Lane is one of them.

The Union Pacific Railroad has as one of its official colors, Armour Yellow, which is the same color used by Armour refrigerated cars in the early 20th century.[15]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ PBS. "Chicago: City of the Century". American Experience.
  2. ^ Wentworth, Edward N. (1920). Biographical Catalog of the Portrait Gallery of the Saddle and Sirloin Club. Chicago, IL: Union Stock Yards. p. 178.
  3. ^ a b c d PBS. "People & Events: Philip Danforth Armour (1832–1901)". American Experience.
  4. ^ Wade, Louise Carroll (2003). Chicago's Pride. University of Illinois Press. pp. 64–65.
  5. ^ a b c Ing, Deborah. "Philip Danforth Armour". American National Biography Online.
  6. ^ Johnston, Charles (1920). Famous Leaders of Industry. L.C. Page and Company. p. 7.
  7. ^ Ing, Deborah. "Armour, Philip Danforth". American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ Ing, Deborah. "Philip Danforth Armour".
  9. ^ Green 2006, pp. 23–24
  10. ^ Green 2006, p. 104
  11. ^ Green 2006, p. 159
  12. ^ "Armour and His Men". New York Times. March 18, 1899.
  13. ^ "Philip D. Armour Jr. Dead. Younger Son of Chicago's Millionaire Packer Stricken with Congestion of the Lungs in California". New York Times. January 28, 1900. Retrieved 2010-12-09. News has been received of the sudden death of Philip D. Armour Jr. at Montecito, near Santa Barbara. Young Armour was ill but ...
  14. ^ "Philip D. Armour Is Dead. Chicago Millionaire Passes Away After Two Years' Illness. Sought Health at Home and Abroad. Began to Sink with the Commencement of Winter. His Wealth Estimated as High as $50,000,000". New York Times. January 7, 1901. Retrieved 2009-07-31. Philip Danforth Armour -- philanthropist, financier, and multi-millionaire, head of the vast commercial establishment that bears his name -- died at his ...
  15. ^ Daniels 2008, p. 97


External linksEdit

Preceded by
President of Armour and Company
Succeeded by
J. Ogden Armour