Description: This large, sandstone grinding wheel was used at Swift & Company, the last of Sioux City’s “Big Three” meatpacking houses. The wheel was used to sharpen the cleavers, knives, and other tools employees needed for meat processing. Swift & Company began in Massachusetts in the 1850s by Gustavus F. Swift, who quickly relocated to Chicago to take advantage of the Union Stockyards. Swift was one of the first in the industry to take advantage of refrigerated railroad cars, and his company blossomed as a result. Swift & Company came to Sioux City in 1917, and in 1924 purchased the bankrupt Midland Packing Company, beginning operations out of a plant on Leech Avenue. It was the smallest plant of Sioux City’s “Big Three,” but one of the most modern and efficient, with innovations in refrigeration, shipping practices, and safety measures. The company ran smoothly for many years, until the December of 1949, when a natural gas line broke and caused a massive explosion. After the explosion ammonia and gas fumes swept through the plant, making it hard for those looking for survivors to breathe. Over 90 people were injured in the blast and 21 dead, and there were over $1 million in property damages.
Swift recovered from the blast and continued operations in Sioux City. They rebuilt the damaged plant and kept innovating their processes, opening new fertilizer, smoking, and sausage houses. At their height in the 1940s they employed over 1,000 people in Sioux City alone. In 1974 Swift abandoned the plant at Leech Avenue and began operations south of the city in the Bridgeport Industrial Park. The old Swift plant was purchased by Kermit Lohry, who converted the plant into a unique shopping and entertainment center known as KD Stockyards Station. Swift & Company closed in 1985, but the KD Station stayed open for much longer, until the building was deemed unsound and demolished in 2009. Swift & Company in Chicago was purchased as a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods in 1987, and still exists today.
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