Before the centralization of butchering – which was a major economic event begun in the early 1880s, made possible by Gustavus Swift’s successful development of economically efficient refrigerated railroad cars – almost all consumption of fresh meat took place within a few days and a few miles of its slaughter. Lack of refrigeration required that butchering be local. And butchering back then was real butchering – actually killing animals on the spot – rather than merely carving up carcasses delivered to local supermarkets from afar.True enough; pick up Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie and note the lurid passages when the calf gets it (to obtain rennet in order to make cheese) and when the pig gets it.
But did you know that there's a book written to answer Sinclair? It's less well known although it's likely to turn up in big-city libraries. J. Ogden Armour wrote The Packers, the Private Car Lines, and the People (not a catchy title and we are talking about a meatpacking heir) and it will reward careful study if one takes the corporate special pleading at face value and evaluates the technology of packing and refrigeration.
(And, in an odd footnote to this post, a trivia contest on a local radio station awarded a prize to a listener today who correctly identified Budweiser as the first beer to achieve national distribution by use of refrigerated cars; perhaps that name recognition advantage lasts to this day.)