From Ohio History Central
During the nineteenth century, many Ohioans earned their livelihood through meatpacking. Cincinnati emerged as one of the major meatpacking centers of the United States. By the middle of the 1800s, the city was known as "Porkopolis," due to meatpacking's importance to Cincinnati's economy.
The Ohio River, the National Road, the Miami and Erie Canal, and railroads all provided Cincinnati residents with quick and easy access to markets. Many people, especially those living east of the Appalachian Mountains, looked to the West for foodstuffs. While the majority of Americans were farmers during the nineteenth century, an increasing number of people earned their living through industrialization. With most factories being located in cities, urban dwellers did not have the space nor the time needed to produce their own food. Cincinnati's strategic location near several transportation routes, plus Ohioans' heavy reliance on agriculture, allowed the city's population to prosper.
Ohio farmers brought their livestock to Cincinnati, where it was then slaughtered, processed, and sold to western settlers or shipped to various markets. While the meatpacking industry resulted in tremendous wealth for some residents, it also caused numerous problems for other people. Most workers were German or Irish immigrants. Due to ethnic discrimination, many of these people were denied better paying jobs. They worked long hours for little pay on the floors of the meatpacking plants. They had no real opportunity to advance. Many of these workers paid exorbitant rent for apartments in the most downtrodden neighborhoods of the city. If they became injured on the job, their employers routinely fired them. The workers did not receive health insurance, worker's compensation, or retirement. If they could not work at the pace set by the employers, the bosses simply replaced the slow workers with younger, more productive ones.
The meatpacking industry also resulted in tremendous amounts of pollution. The relatively warm temperatures in southern Ohio caused meat to spoil quickly, resulting in a horrendous odor. Parts of the butchered animals that business owners could not sell, they simply dumped into the Ohio River, hoping the current would wash the waste away. Before the arrival of a large number of German immigrants during the 1830s, most meatpackers simply threw the ribs of the animals into the Ohio River. Most Americans refused to eat spareribs. Once Germans, who loved spareribs, moved to the city, the meat processors had a market for the ribs.
Although meatpacking was hard work and many people did not prosper from it, some people certainly did benefit. Many of Cincinnati's most prominent people enhanced their wealth through the meatpacking industry. In 1887, meatpacking was the second largest business in Cincinnati, behind only iron production. Meatpacking brought in more than 23.5 million dollars to the city's economy that year, just 3.5 million dollars behind the iron industry. Even the workers on the floors of the plants benefited. Meatpacking brought new employment opportunities for Ohio residents. While it was difficult for a single person to earn a suitable living, if more than one family member worked in the plants, a family could meet their basic needs. Not all people could afford land to become farmers, and early industrialization, including meatpacking, provided these people with means to support themselves. In 1887, almost six thousand people in Cincinnati earned their living by working in meatpacking. Other businesses affiliated with meatpacking also provided new job opportunities. Leather production earned Cincinnati businesses 10.4 million dollars in 1887 and employed almost 6.5 thousand workers. Farmers also prospered, having a market for their livestock. Prosperity declined during the late 1800s and the early 1900s, as the meatpacking industry moved westward. By the late 1800s, Chicago, Illinois, had emerged as the United States' meatpacking leader. There were several reasons for this, including the emergence of ranching in the American West and the improvement of the nation's transportation system.