Chicago 1900: Pickled hands and much worse


“In the beginning he had been fresh and strong, and he had gotten a job
that first day, but now he was second-hand, a damaged article, so to speak, and they did not want him. They had worn him out, with their speedin-up and their carelessness, and now they had thrown him away!”Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906) Meatpacking workers carrying their product to unrefrigerated and most likely rat infested storage areas

Newly hired children workers.

The nightmare of the Chicago meatpacking industry was described as follows:

The words of the late Pulitzer prize winning author Upton Sinclair only begin to tell the story of the beginning of the Chicago meatpacking business. As the wheels of American industries began to move, so moved the meatpacking business in Chicago 1900 – and the conditions were unsanitary, unregulated, and clearly unsafe. Add into the equation long hours, low wages, and child workers, what emerges is a social nightmare.

It was January 12, 1909, and the weather in Chicago was typical – freezing cold, and the wind coming off the Chicago river was harsh. Early that morning, John Panzezyk set off from his dismal tenement home in the Stockyard district to walk the short distance to his job at a meatpacking plant. His work days were usually 12 to 15 hours, and this day, he was simply hoping to stay warm. He said goodbye to his wife and four small children. Sadly, it would be the last time they would see him alive. Later that day, John was killed at work when he got caught in the belting of a large meat machine. In a time when big business ruled, and workers had no rights, and certainly no extended benefits, it is likely that Mrs. Panzezyk and her children would soon become destitute, and possibly homeless. The reality of this terrible event offers a small window into the family tragedy that would have certainly followed. The story of John Panzezyk serves as just one example of the realities that Upton Sinclair was trying to express.

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