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In the Archives: Closing of the Chicago Union Stockyards affected Grayslake Gelatin Co.

History Fair projects by local high school students are on display at Grayslake Heritage Center.

An added attraction to what can be seen at the Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum is that periodically history projects and history fair entries from Grayslake High School students are prominently displayed.   

Currently on display is Porkopolis, a history complete with pictures and narratives of the Chicago Union Stockyards that was established in 1864 and closed at midnight on July 30, 1971. For most of those years, Chicago was the Hog Butcher to the World.

The exhibit was created by Jim Glass, 17, a senior at Grayslake North High School, during his junior year for a United States history class project. He said each history student is required to research a topic and submit it for regional history fair competition and the Chicago Metro History Fair.

Glass said his interest in the Chicago stockyards was sparked by stories told by his grandfather who lived in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago near the stockyards. The museum project reflects these stories recalling what his grandfather heard, saw and smelled at the stockyards.  

"The history fair was well worth it," said Glass who plans to attend the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to earn a degree in pharmacy.   Glass noted the stockyards were established by nine railroads that combined to form a railroad network that could haul livestock from throughout the near Midwest for a one-stop butchering and meat preparation process that created thousands of jobs.

In 1870, two million animals were processed at Porkopolis. By 1951, 983 million animals were processed resulting in meat valued at $28 billion. The stockyards not only produced meat for the dinner table, but also a variety of livestock by-products including bones, hides for leather, soap, buttons, lard, violin strings, etc. It also provided edible pork skins for the gelatin industry including Grayslake Gelatin Co. which received train-car loads of skins for its refining process.

The closing of the stockyards in 1971, which reduced the nearby source of pork skins, is one of the reasons that led to the closing of the Grayslake Gelatin plant. 

Also affected by the closing of Porkopolis were the Lake County farmers who lost their market source for their livestock. For years, they had relied on the Chicago stockyards to process their livestock.

Slowly after World War II, the Chicago stockyards became more obsolete as the growth of the interstate trucking industry boomed and with the decentralization of the meat packing industry.

This year's high school students are expected to continue with their history projects and some of them may be on display at the museum.  

The Grayslake Heritage Center and Museum, 164 Hawley St., Grayslake, is open from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and during downtown community events.

-Submitted by the Grayslake Historical Society 

Jeff August 21, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Very informative! Thank you Jim.
john goodwin August 21, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I do remember the smell from the factory.not so good. Great info thank you Jim.

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