Historical Jagoff of the Week: Philip Danforth Armour
by Paul Durica
Philip Danforth Armour made his money out of meat and men. He modernized the packing industry and maximized its profits, finding a use for every part of the pig, he reputedly boasted, “but the squeal.” Cruelty to animals isn’t enough to get him on this list—jagoffs that we are, we like our hams and hot dogs—but Armour regarded his largely immigrant workforce as being as disposable as the pigs they processed. Working conditions in his plant were so bad and injuries, illness, and maiming common enough that Upton Sinclair was able to get a whole novel’s worth of material out of them. Like Marshall Field, Armour seemed to have believed that the United States military existed for the sole purpose of protecting his wealth. In the aftermath of the 1877 railroad strikes, Armour was quite vocal in expressing his belief that a Gatling gun was the best way to deal with disgruntled workers and helped to establish Fort Sheridan so that the army would always be standing by. But here is what makes Armour such a jagoff: to the same army he expected to aid him, he sold tainted meat by the barrel. An official inquiry into the matter severely tarnished his image. Screwing over the people who make your money is one thing, but screwing over the people who protect that money as well, that’s just plain jagoffery.
This originally ran in our special Lumpen Field Guide to Chicago Jagoffs.