Eleanor “Ellie” McCrackin
Swift’s Premium Oleomargarine
When young Gustavus Swift opened a butcher shop in Eastham, Massachusetts in 1855, he effectively founded the global operation that would in years to come be Swift and Company. That Cape Cod location was the first of three other very successful business sites: Brighton, Massachusetts, and Albany and Buffalo, New York. Twenty years later Swift and Company was incorporated in Chicago.
Even in the late-19th century, a meat-packing business was soon recognized as a life-essential business and people from all walks of life patronized meat packers as a way to alleviate the rigors of their daily routine.
Swift and Company grew at an astonishing rate, but it was not without dispute. They had gained control of the Fort Worth Stockyards in 1902 and that generated an antitrust lawsuit that made its way to the Supreme Court in 1905. The decision in the case of Swift & Company vs United States affected other meat packers as well and the others (Armour, Morris, Cudahy, Wilson and Schwartzchild) were for years forced to face the unsavory sobriquet that acclaimed them as the “Beef Trust.” Probably, a well-deserved moniker since they controlled more than half of the national market and nearly three-quarters of the New York market alone.
Frequently lawsuits have little to do with daily operations and so it seemed to be in the Swift case. Within the decade, the company opened a newer and modern processing plant in Minnesota. The facility was purpose built to slaughter and process cattle, as well as hogs, and sheep. The “stock” was acquired by dedicated company buyers at the St. Paul Stockyards. Because of the easy proximity of the stockyards the live animals were driven across overhead ramps to the killing floors.
At that site Swift processed fresh, smoked, and canned meats, At other sites in other locations Swift also manufactured baby foods, soap, lard, shortening, adhesives, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, hides and animal feeds.
In the dairy division Swift sold shortening, margarine, butter, Brookfield cheese, and Peter Pan peanut butter. Swift began selling frozen turkeys under the Butterball brand in 1954.
And, most of this happened because Gus Swift, at the very first occasion that he saw one was mesmerized by refrigerated railroad cars.
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The Swift meat packing business was one that functioned without a peer in many ways. From its incorporation in 1875 there were members of the corporate team who recognized the value of advertising. Display ads are frequently discovered in archived copies of magazines, newspapers, and other business journals and house-organs. Those ads produced sales, but the person who decided to advertise on postcards set a much higher standard of advertising, through the onset years of the postcard’s golden era.
From 1908 to 1918 Swift commissioned at least six sets of postcards with themed images for products in their meat and dairy divisions.
The first set came in 1908 for their oleo product. The cards, copyrighted in 1908, carried images of young nationals in traditional costume from countries as far apart as Japan and Spain.
1910 was when Swift decided that if postcards would sell one product they may be useful in selling another. Butterine, an imitation butter prepared from animal fat and seasonings was developed as a forerunner of oleomargarine, was advertised with postcards showing – once again, foreign nationals – highlighted by airships of several designs.
In the era running up to 1912 Swift perfected the manufacture of what they named oleomargarine – after its appearance (pearly) and content (olive oil).
The first set of “Swift’s Premium Oleomargarine” postcards appeared in 1912, they featured natives from other countries in traditional costume along with a poem and a drawing of a child. The set included six designs.
In 1914 the second set of cards appeared with national flags. The set included six designs. Later that same year a second set carrying national emblems, i.e., a harp for Ireland, appeared as a “buyer-bonus” for every pound purchased.
Finally in 1918, Swift commissioned a set of postcards to advertise the ultimate product available for food preparation that would increase the flavor of vegetables. In this set the characters in familiar nursery rhymes were featured: Jack Spratt, the Queen of Hearts, Simple Simon, Tommy Tucker, Jack Horner, and Old King Cole were center scene with their rhymes altered to amuse the sender and receiver.
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Such is the wisdom of advertising
Swift’s Premium Oleomargarine