Chicago, IL Packing House Fire, Sept 1890

A Big Blaze In Chicago

A Packing House In The Stockyards In Flames.

Thousands of Dead Hogs and Many Tanks of Oil Add Fierceness to the Fire-Loss About $700,000.

Chicago, Sept. 28.-Fowler Brothers’ packing house at the stock yards was damaged by fire this morning, causing a loss to the amount of $690,000. The fire originated at 1:30 o’clock in the morning in the packing room or the engine room adjoining. The firemen worked against obstacles from the start. Water had little effect on the grease-soaked floors, and the fire soon reached the tank room, where thirty-two tanks of lard were stored. These exploded one after another with loud reports, and the boiling lard fed the flames more fiercely. The heat was so intense that the firemen were compelled to work at a distance, and it was seen to be worse than useless to throw water into the hissing and seething furnace.

The packing room is about 50 by 150 feet, and the whole interior was blazing when the firemen reached the scene in response to the first alarm. The flames spread to the cooling room adjoining, and commenced burning the carcasses of the hogs hanging there. In the room were 6,689 hogs freezing, and they burned like oil. Water was useless in fighting the fire, and it seemed nothing could be done to stop the conflagration. The roof fell in about two hours after the fire started, and the flames then became more furious. The blaze lighted up the heavens, and rendered everything as bright as day. Scores of firemen were directing a hundred streams of water into the burning acres of land and meat with no effect.

About this time the flames had reached a lot of saltpetre stored above the packing room, and the fumes from the burning chemicals were stifling. The vapors stifled the men and made them retreat. They entered the nostrils and eyes and almost made the men wild with pain. At 6 o’clock it was seen to be impossible to extinguish the burning pork, and water was thrown on it to keep the fire down as much as possible. It will have to burn itself out, and it will probably be two days before it is entirely extinguished.

In the basement of the building was stored an immense stock of sat meats. This caught fire, and while the flames were not furious, and were prevented from blazing high, they still kept eating the sides, shoulders and hams, that were place in solid cords, layer on layer. The roof and floors covered the smoldering meats and kept water from reaching them, and the firemen were busy all day using axes and hammers for removing the mass of debris that hindered their work.

The building that burned is part of the plant that has been recently erected. The whole was a patched-up affair and at the present time additions were being built. The series of buildings were under one roof and surrounded by a high wall. This kept the sightseers at a distance and a few policemen were able to keep everyone out. Thousands were on the scene during the day, but they could see nothing and did not linger around long. The interiors of the buildings were of wood and very inflammable. The cooling room, in which the freshly-slaughtered hogs were hanging, was lined with a foot of sawdust, like an icehouse. This hindered the firemen in their work and aided the flames. About 1,200 men and 100 girls were employed by the company.

The loss is entirely covered by insurance, mostly in foreign companies. The plant was insured for $1,500,000. The Llloyd Company of Manchester, England, had four policies of $19,500 each. The buildings were divided into departments and were designated by letters. Department F was totally destroyed. It was insure for $52,500, and there was $125,000 on its contents. Building A was insured for $15,000 with $130,000 on its contents. Building E had $35,000 insurance on it and $250,000 on its contents. The packing house, in which the fire started, was insured for $32,500, its machinery for $22,500, engines and boilers, $12,500 and contents, $13,000. The loss is divided about as follows: One hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars on machinery, $75,000 on dressed hogs, $500,000 on sides, ham and shoulders packed in the cellars. While a part of the buildings are totally destroyed, the loss on them is small, because they were cheaply constructed. Four large engines, three of them used for running the refrigerator, were burned. The estimates of the loss vary from $500,000 to $800,000, and the exact amount will depend on the amount of meats stored in the buildings and destroyed.

The company that has been conducting this business is composed of Englishmen. They have been in business here since 1862, and have been in the present building since 1873. The firm has been known as the Anglo-American Packing Company for years. Recently a new company was formed to be known as Fowler Brothers, Limited, and subscriptions have been received to the stock. It was a regular public company and the stockholders belonged to both continents. Shares were placed at $50 and the capital stock was over $3,500,000. The prospectus issued was intended principally for use in England. It placed the capital at L751,000 each share being L10. It was incorporated in England and proposed to acquire the business of Fowler Brothers, Limited, of Liverpool; Fowler Brothers of New York, the Anderson-Fowler Company of New-York, the Anglo-American Refrigerator Car Company, the Anglo-American Provision Company of Chicago, and the Omaha Packing Company of Omaha. One third of the stock was taken by the old owners as purchase money, and the remaining 50,000 shares were offered for public subscription. The books would have closed Sept. 30, after being open four days. What effect this fire will have on the new company can only be conjectured.

A property owner who is interested in affairs in Packingtown was around the fire to-day, and entertained a crown for awhile talking about the new company. “There is a wide discrepancy,” he said, regarding the capitalization and the actual value.” Joseph T. Nicholson values the plant at about $700,000. If you should fill it from cellar to garret with dead hogs, the value would not run up into the millions. They claim in their prospectus that the plants of all the companies to be consolidated are worth something over $2,500,000, and yet the capital stock is a million more than that.

Anderson Fowler, the manager of the firm of Fowler Brothers said: “It is impossible at present to estimate the loss as the damages to the goods in the warehouses cannot as yet be ascertained. The tank building and the killing houses are entirely destroyed and warehouses H and K are badly damaged. The buildings are fully insured and we shall rebuild at once. I think that the loss will reach $500,000, but, as I have said, it is impossible to calculate it until we can get into the warehouses.

The New York Times, New York, NY 29 Sept 1890