The Meat Wars

NW

The Meat Wars

The Wright Market is in vigorous competition with the Montana Market who is trying very hard to beat the Fulton Market.  These are supplied by the Mitchem Meat Company.

The Metropole Market is a block away on Main Street and having no problem competing because they get their meat from the Stanton Meat Packing Plant. 

The prices charged by The Fulton and Metropole Markets are identical - perhaps showing there is collusion between suppliers Stanton and Mitchem.

Some days the price dives and other days they rise.

It is a full-scale meat war.  

The Origin of the Stanton Meat Company

How did the Stanton Meat Company grow so big?  Seventeen years earlier in 1893 Edgar Stanton started from humble roots. 

The Cold Storage Market opened its doors in 1893.  Luther Wood and Ed Stanton were partners.  The store was located at 317 W Riverside and everyone in town was talking about it.  You could call them to order.  Their newly installed telephone had a phone number of 391.

The attraction at the Cold Storage Market was their keeping the meat just above freezing.  You could look through the glass and see the cold room with the many hanging carcasses of cattle. 

It was a totally new way of buying meat and Stanton was cleaning up.   Large crowds were buying a lot of meat.  The building extended from Riverside through to Sprague.  The building that was fronting on Riverside was used as a retail meat market.  The main refrigerated room was just behind the salesroom, running back to Sprague.  The store was complete with large glass windows for everyone to see.  The cold room held several carloads of hanging beef.  The belief was that meat which was kept just above freezing for a few days was more tender and considered the best quality.  

In 1898 Ed Stanton bought out Luther Woods.

Stanton Building New Meat Plant at Yardley

September 16, 1897

Ed Stanton is planning a new $150,000 meat slaughtering plant at Yardley.  It will have a capacity of processing 500 hogs a day. It will also "dress" cattle and sheep.   The new building is on the main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad.  The building will have lots of cold storage for keeping freshness longer.

Rebuilding and Enlarging

In June, 1904 there was a fire at the Riverside store.  The Cold Storage Market  was burnt out.  The building had been a rental and Stanton wanted to own his building, not rebuild on other's property.

He bought land a block away, paying $7,000 for a lot on Front and Bernard to the Hypotheek Bank.  They had repossessed the lot.  The next year Stanton sold half of the large lot along Front Street for $7,500.  He made good money and his investment was paid off.

He was planning to build a $20,000 3 story meat packing plant.  The buiding at 212 N Bernard Street was on the east side of Bernard, between Main and Front Streets.  

The first floor was to be used as the retail meat market.  The second floor was intended to be the cold storge and packing areas.  On that floor they also planned to make sausage using cutters, trimmers, and packers. The third floor was to be used for rendering lard and storage.  The basement was to be used for pickling and curing.  The building was 47 feet on the street and 120 feet deep.   A large ice making machine was located at the rear of the first floor.

50 men in 1904 were working at the Stanton Meat Plant.  That year the firm sold $750,000.

In August 1905 a stench aroused the folk living in Union Park.  Stanton had been accused of hauling dead caucuses from his Yardly slaughterhouse and dumping them inside the city limits at Magnolia and Madelia.  It turned out to be caused by a contractor using some Stanton waste product to build up the railroad bed.   The problem was immdiately remedied and never repeated.

Stanton Grows

By 1905 the Stanton Meat Plant had grown to a huge size and grocers claimed Stanton could squeeze out competition.

An example of this hard competition is easily shown.  Just look at the 2 markets located at 9th and Perry.  Last year the Stanton firm bought out the Liberty Park Market.  A block away was the Richland Park Market at 10th Avenue and Perry.  The accusation was that the Stanton firm refused to sell meat to the Richland Park Market.   That event started a vicious price war.

Accusations were flying everywhere.  Mr Michael, owner of the Table Rock Grocery, said Stanton did not refuse to sell him meat.  But others told the exact opposite story.

New Yardley Abattoir - 1907

It was announced today, September 10th, that a new $150,000 abattoir will be built in their Yardley plant.

The amount being spent by Stanton is incredibe!   The new abattoir will be one of the finest plants in the northwest  for killing, packing, and refrigerating meats.   The Stanton plant says they are slaughtering 18,000 cattle, 50,000 hogs, and 25,000 sheep yearly.    Stanton started in the meat business 12 years ago, and now his plant represents a $500,000 investment.

In 1908 Stanton announces a $200,000 addition.  It will double the abattoir plant capacity.  The new building will include a fertilizer plant and Stanton will now handle poultry.

Two months later Stanton revises his estimates.  Now he says the plant will cost $300,00 and employ 1,200 men, instead of the 500 earlier claimed.  His 5-acre original site has grown to 10 acres - having bought adjoining land.  By now he is doing a large amount of interstate business - selling in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia.  John Overholt has just joined the firm as a stockholder and vice president.

The New Stanton Plant - 1910

Stanton has never stopped growing.  There is a nervousness in town that the new $500,000 Stanton meat plant in Yardley will be getting too big.  

The War

JB Greenough started the ruckus which has grown beyond belief.  It is January, 1910 and Greenough has publicly claimed Stanton overcharged him.  So Greenough had gone to the Walla Walla Meat Company and bought his meat there.  Stanton then refused to sell Greenough and a large meat war was started in the city. 

This problem had been brewing for at least 5 years.  Up to now there have been only 2 large meat suppliers in Spokane - Mitchem Brothers and Stanton.   Stanton owns and/or exclusively supplies 20 stores.  Mitchem Brothers controls 11 stores. 

Public Markets

picture of a public market at the turn of the century

A Public Market is made up of small, independent businesses.  Each stall is owner-operated.  The market features dozens of venders.

Public markets are locally owned and operated.  They highlight the best in local foods, crafts, music, heritage, and culture.

At the turn of the century meat markets were mostly independent of grocery stores.  Sometimes a meat market owner would rent space inside a grocery store. 

Meat was delivered to homes by the store.  Home owners were given 30 day credit.   Collecting was a real chore.  There was an element of loss from those uncollectable accounts. 

In Spokane in 1902 there were only 32 butcher shops.  They employed 128 people.  The wages were 25 cents an hour, $2.50 a day, or $15 a week.  You either bought meats from Stanton or Mitchem Brothers.

Meat Trust

JB Greenough says there is a "Meat Trust" in Spokane

Greenough claims: Stanton and Michem are fixing prices in Spokane 

An example is that in 1909 Stanton paid 4-1/2 cents a pound for live weight cattle and sold them to retail shops at 9 cents a pound, dressed

Stanton claims he is losing $1.66 per steer.    He says a 648-pound steer costs him $51.84 and he is selling it at retail to meat shops for $69.12.   

Stanton says he is losing money selling chuck steak for 12-1/2 cents a pound, and all other steaks are only a bit higher.  He claims he is not clearing a gross 25% profit.

Then a massive story appears in the newspaper, on July 3rd, 1910.  It describes the new Stanton plant.  It announces the new plant will cover over 3 acres and the new building will be 12 stories.  The firm will eventually employ 1,200 people and become the largest and most modern meat processing plant in the west.

The company announces it has floated $600,000 of stock.  It is more likely some sort of borrowing.  Stanton's sales are now $2.5 million a year.   

The plant opens in October 1910.  

Three months later with a new plant, Stanton lowers meat prices.   In March, 1911 the reduced prices are 3 to 7 cents a pound lower.  Steaks, for example, were now 5 cents a pond lower.  Spokane is definitely back in a meat war.   It is disclosed that Stanton now controls 19 retail meat markets. 

On October 12, 1912 Stanton publicly again claims he is losing money.  Once again, he produces his financial figures for the public to see.    

And once again Greenough and other independent grocers disputed his claims.

In March 1913 Stanton again claims meat prices are too high.  The live weight is now 7-1/2 cents and he wants it to be 6 cents a pound.  Stanton now has his stores eliminate credit and deliveries to homes.  This savings he claims are enough to cover the reduced costs. 

On May 3rd, 1913 Stanton raises prices again.  Ground beef is raised up from 15 cents a pound to 17 cents a pound.

Investors

Stanton needed money to grow.   In 1913 Stanton went to old Montana friends, asking them to invest in his plant.  JE Hemple was an elderly Montana hide dealer.  RL Hamilton was an older Butte mining investor.  While nobody knows how much they invested, they each received 1,173 shares in the Stanton Meat Plant.  They together owned 2,346 shares of the 5,750 shares outstanding shares - or about 40%.   

Stanton asked others to invest.   The four other investors owned 1,173 shares.  The Stanton ownership was at 38.8% and now had been diluted to 2,231 shares.    

The Plant Enlarges

Stanton was not done building.  In November, 1915 Stanton added a new 6 story brick building.  He planned to process the hides from the cattle.

The meat wars never really ended.  Accusations of price fixing and selling at different prices to two firms kept appearing.  It is said Stanton paid 6 cents a pound for hogs from one person and 4-1/2 cents for the same similar hogs from another farmer.  There was always an unknown price factor when dealing with the Stanton Meat Plant.

Some would say that was just shrewd business.    Armour, Swift, Morris, Cudahy, Schwarzschild, Morrell, and National Meat all had opened plants in Spokane and then dropped out of competing.  They never could achieve an economy of scale.   Only Armour and Swift were still active in November, 1915 in Spokane. 

In February 1915 Stanton announced he would build another $175,000 building, employing another 250 men.  It was a five-story warehouse intended to store cured meats.

In February 1916 Stanton paid off $250,000 of mortgages on his older buildings. 

In June 1916 Stanton once again lowered prices.  Now meat was at the lowest price seen in 20 years.  Dressed beef was selling at 12-1/2 cents wholesale.  Steak was 10 cents a pound and pot roasts were 6-8 cents a pound, down from 12 cents a pound.  Spareribs were 5 cents a pound.  Prices did not make sense.   If wholesale was 12-1/2 cents a pound, how could choice cuts sell for 8 cents a pound.  Something had to give.

In July 1916 Stanton dropped his prices once again.  Steaks were now 8 cents a pound and people flocked to buy.  It was an obvious effort to drive any small independent meat dealers out of the business, once and for all.  

There was now talk of "fight to the finish" and "we can stay in the ring as long as any other fellow" comments, which were heard being made by other market owners. 

Things got back to normal in the fall. 

But next spring in 1917 there was a new price war.   The friction between the meat dealers was driven by a letter EH Stanton sent to the city council accusing the independents of selling bad meats   They were selling meats not federally inspected.  The Stanton meat plant was government federally inspected. 

In March 1917 Stanton dropped his prices again, freezing out the small independents.   Steak was at 15 cents a pound, 3 cents below the normal of 18 cent a pound pricing.  There were markets in town selling sirloin steak for 11 cents a pound.  Crowds of shoppers were out, and people wandered from one store window to another to get the latest and lowest quotation.

By April crowds were rushing to get cheap meat at outlandish prices.  It was now Stanton against all the independent meat markets in town.   The prices were once again the lowest ever and definitely in the previous 6 months.  People were buying up everything.  Stanton who owned or supplied exclusively 19 meat markets in town was dropping the prices. 

It became known as the "Main Avenue Price War".  Just looking on Main Street the Stanton's Fulton Market was competing with a number of other shops.  They included the the Washington Market, the Marr Main Avenue store, Welch's Market, The Busy Bee Market, The Hathaway Brothers, Fred Buhl's Star Market, The City Hall Market, and the John Lewis Market.     The Main Avenue retail district was the mecca for thousands of shoppers, attracted by the advertisement of "meat war prices". Some establishments cut deep on one thing and some on another.    Beef and veal were the main attractions in price reductions.   

But Stanton had the price advantage.   

It was a vicious and long lasting meat war and what came next was a total surprise!

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