Michael Bushnell

Patrick Cudahy started in the meatpacking business as a carrying boy for the Roddis Packing House in Chicago in 1862. Cudahy was barely 13 years old at the time. The meat packing houses typically shut down between March and October because there was no way to keep the meat cold through the summer months.

 During that period, Cudahy worked in trees and began a stone-cutting apprenticeship when he was 17 years old. By the time he was 25, he had worked his way up to a superintendent position at the Milwaukee Armour Packing House.

Three short years later, with Armour’s backing, Patrick and his brothers started an Armour-Cudahy plant in cattle-rich Omaha, NE. In 1890, the Cudahy brothers bought out the Armour interest in the operation.

 By the time this promotional postcard was printed by the Curt Teich Company of Chicago in the early 1920’s, Cudahy had become the largest packing plant in the United States with operations in South Omaha, Kansas City, Sioux City, S.D., Memphis, Wichita, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Atlanta. The Kansas City, KS., plant shown here took over the operation of the Kingman Packing Company after a fire destroyed the operation in 1895. Following the plant’s reopening, hog production began to swell and the plant underwent numerous expansions.

 The photo for this card was taken in the early 1920s.  

 In March 1910, the Cudahy family was embroiled in a huge controversy when John P. Cudahy returned to his midtown home to find prominent local banker, Jere Lillis, inside, allegedly engaged in a torrid affair with Cudahy’s wife Edna.  

According to published reports, when police arrived at the home, they found Cudahy, in formal attire, standing over a bloody and pleading Lillis with a knife in his hand. Lillis was the manager of the Western Exchange Bank in Kansas City at the time. Cudahy told police, “he ruined my home.”

Following the attack, the couple divorced but reconciled in 1912 and remarried, resettling in Pasadena, California. A dozen years later, despondent over financial matters, John P. Cudahy committed suicide with a shotgun blast to the head.

Cudahy’s packing company continued to operate but the Kansas City plant did not reopen following the flood of 1951. The company was sold to Bar S Foods in 1981 and was absorbed by Sigma Alimentos, a Mexican packing company, in 2010.