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Phillip Armour

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Phillip Armour

Philip Danforth Armour
Born (1832-05-16)May 16, 1832
Stockbridge, New York
Died January 6, 1901(1901-01-06) (aged 68)
Chicago, Illinois
Spouse(s) Malvina Bell Ogden
Children J. Ogden Armour (1863-1927)
Philip Danforth Armour, Jr. (1869-1900)
Relatives Herman Ossian Armour (brother)

Philip Danforth Armour, Sr. (16 May 1832 – 6 January 1901) was an American meatpacking industrialist who founded the Chicago based firm of Armour & Company. He is often considered one of America's robber barons of the Industrial Revolution.

Life and career

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 with a girl.[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 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 meat packing 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. It was reported that the company used every possible part of the animals to make products other than canned meat, such as fertilizer, glue and pepsin. 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, bringing in an estimated $110 million in 1893 and establishing Armour’s position as one of the great industrialists of the Gilded Age.[5]

Since the end of the Civil War, labor activists in Chicago had been struggling for better pay, as well as the eight-hour day, safer working conditions, and the right to form unions.[6] At a time when the living wage for a five member family was $15.40 a week, the workers at Armour and Company had 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.[7] 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.'”[8] 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] Nevertheless, the New York Times managed to emphasize in its reporting how greatly Armour “cares for his labor” without any sense of irony.[9] “Although his workers lived and worked in squalid conditions,” the PBS series American Experience reports, “Armour was known as a philanthropist”.[3]

The company's reputation was further tarnished by the scandal of 1898–99 in which it was charged with selling tainted beef. This event provided fodder for the muckraking novel by Upton Sinclair entitled The Jungle, which was published in February 1906 and became a bestseller.

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 oldest son, Philip D. Armour, Jr., died.[10]

Armour died on January 6, 1901 of pneumonia at his Chicago home.[11] 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 bears his name. The streets of North Redondo Beach, CA are named after prominent American businessmen of the industrial revolution. Armour Lane is one of them.

See also


Further reading

  • Depew, Chauncey M. (1895). "Philip D. Armour, 'The Pig Industry'" in 100 Years of American Commerce.
  • Gunsaulus, Frank W. "Philip D. Armour, A Character Sketch".
  • Hill, Napoleon (1987). Think and Grow Rich. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-449-21492-3.
  • Kane, Mary A. (2006). "Oconomowoc (Postcard History Series)" Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-4089-4.
  • Leech, Harper and John Charles Carroll (1938). Armour and His Times, New York: D. Appelton-Century Company.
  • Lowe, David Garrard (2000). Lost Chicago. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. ISBN 0-8230-2871-2.
  • White, John H. (1986). The Great Yellow Fleet. San Marino, California: Golden West Books. ISBN 0-87095-091-6.

External links

  • Armour Square Park of the Chicago Park District
  • History of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT)
  • Biographical sketch for Philip Armour on PBS American Experience
  • Find A Grave

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

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