Chicago Union Stockyards Gate

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Chicago Literary Landmarks Hunt/Chicago Union Stockyards Gate
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“All day long the gates of the packinghouses were besieged by starving and penniless men; they came, literally, by the thousands every single morning, fighting with each other for a chance for life.” -- from the “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclairy

Chicago was known for its famous stockyards and the inescapable smell they brought to the nearby neighborhood. The Union Stockyards Gate is one of the few remaining visual reminders of the city’s past domination of the meatpacking industry.

The stockyards were constructed in 1865 to create a central location for the growing industry, once covering nearly 500 acres. The iconic entrance was built in 1869, designed by Burnham and Root, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1981. In its heyday around 1900, the stockyards were also a popular tourist attraction, drawing more than 500,000 people a year. Can you spot the carved stone steer above the central arch? It's thought to represent Sherman, a prize-winning bull named after John B. Sherman, a founder of the Union Stockyard and Transit Company.

This area inspired many 20th century writers including Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, and Upton Sinclair. The stockyards and their resilient workers moved Carl Sandburg to characterize the city as “hog butcher of the world” and “city of big shoulders” in his famous poem “Chicago” in 1914. The conditions inside inspired Upton Sinclair to write his 1906 novel, “The Jungle.”

At that time, the beauty of the Union Stockyard Gate stood in sharp contrast to the horrendous working conditions within. In "The Jungle," immigrants searching for the American Dream were confronted with a nightmare of unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

Sinclair worked undercover at the stockyards before writing “The Jungle.” His goal had been to shine a spotlight on the exploitation of the American factory worker, but readers became more concerned with food safety. "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident, I hit it in the stomach,” said Sinclair.

The popularity of “The Jungle” created a public outcry that influenced the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

Audio podcast is courtesy of The Poetry Foundation,
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Chicago Union Stockyards Gate

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