Samples of Swift & Co. products available in the 1928-35 era which also included a wide variety of canned meats, fruits and vegetables.
Samples of Swift & Co. products available in the 1928-35 era which also included a wide variety of canned meats, fruits and vegetables.

Recently one of our local meat men, Buster Johnson, sold his business to a capable young gent who continues the firm. Buster brought us an assortment of booklets and pamphlets from the 1928-35 era, which surely date to a few years before he was in business. Of particular interest is a thick 1929 tome for a salesman for Swift & Co. headquartered, of course, in Chicago.

Founded in 1868 by Gustave Franklin Swift, the 1929 annual report showed the company boasted eight directors and 15 officers, 11 of whom still bore the Swift name. Definitely a "family" firm, it was astonishing to learn they had 55,000 employees and 80,000 shareholders. At the annual meeting, the CEO apologized for only 6.59 percent earnings on investments. Sales had exceeded $970 million. They claimed 38 meat-packing plants, 70 produce plants, 17 fertilizer plants, seven cotton mills, 21 refineries (shortening), and three soap factories. There were 400 branch houses, assuring national distribution with over 6,000 refrigerated rail cars on 600 routes to 7,000 retailers across the country. Animals dressed each week averaged 75,000 cattle and calves, 75,000 sheep and lambs, and 175,000 hogs. This processing was done in plant spaces that covered 550 acres. Impressive.

We perused the salesman's catalog and were amazed at the breadth of the company enterprises. From pineapple plantations in Hawaii to Swift's Alaska salmon canneries, where they used five varieties with red and sockeye as top grade, followed by chinook and king salmon, all touted as higher in food value than beef. Doctors found less "goitre" and rickets diseases in those who ate seafood since it contained the necessary amount of iodine required by the body.

We visited pickle plants in Illinois, where cucumbers were processed into a wide assortment and shipped in 45-gallon casks and 16-gallon kegs to meat markets and delicatessens. From Spain, Queen and Manzanilla olives were shipped by a special line of steamers to Brooklyn, N.Y. Tomato canneries were located around the country and Swift canned catsup, chili sauce, tomato sauce and juice; sauerkraut in New York, pork and beans in Michigan, Golden Bantam corn, Early June or Sugar peas, stringless beans, and sweet potatoes.

Swift praised their Pacific coast fruit and vegetable canneries, which handled peaches, pears, apricots, berries, apples, cherries, plums, figs and grapes. Vegetables included asparagus, pumpkin, spinach, pimentos, beets, and ripe olives. The dried fruit industry was mind-boggling, with acres of fruit drying in the sun, sometimes for as long as eight to 10 days.

Swift packaged Libby products such as evaporated milk and canned meats. Corned beef was the first and most popular product. Then one could buy canned roast beef, Vienna sausage, deviled ham, veal loaf, ox tongue, lunch tongue, boneless chicken, chicken liver spread, and much, much more.

Intriguing was the canned tripe. As you might or might not know, tripe is the second stomach of a ruminant; it has a honeycomb-like texture. It was valued as follows: "Among recent contributions of service to humanity in the dietetic field, one of most importance to the packing industry was the discovery of the preventative or curative elements contained in certain visceral organs. Already in use as foods, its popularity and consumption was tremendously increased when proof of their full value in the diet became established.

"Science and dieticians now include tripe in special diets for the cure of ailments previously found difficult to handle but in whose treatment today certain elements found in tripe have proved most beneficial."

Nowhere in the "propaganda" did it say which ailments benefited from eating the canned beef tripe. According to my old encyclopedia, "Tripe is an easily digested food, usually prepared by boiling; canned tripe is cooked in milk and salt."

Libby also canned cooked brains. The beef brains were first chilled in ice water, then "hand cleaned by experienced women operators who understand perfectly the technique of removing the veins and filmy tissues, careful that nothing but the tender edible brains go into the can." I wonder how these products were served - hot or cold? With potatoes and gravy? Hmmm.

The volume goes on - "Another item that in a foreign country is almost a national institution and which has taken a firm hold on the American buying public due to the fact it is wholesome and tasty as well as reasonably inexpensive is spaghetti."

It may be hard for us to believe that spaghetti canned in tomato sauce was once a novelty, but Libby was proud of the special wheat grown for their product and, of course, the fine tomatoes and only the best Romano cheese made it of "superlative quality."

Thanks, Buster. For me it was a fun trip through the canneries, fields and offices of Swift & Co. We hope you readers enjoyed the visit, and will query your meat man about tripe, brains or other exotic meats that may be available.