Meatpacking in the Midwest: The Thomas E. Wilson Family Collection


From the Civil War through the 1930s, Chicago was the center of the meatpacking industry in the United States. At its peak, Chicago supplied over 80% of America's meat. The industry impacted the city's economy, America's railroads, food science and food processing technology, labor rights, and government regulation.

The Thomas E. Wilson Family Collection provides a snapshot of one family-owned meatpacking business in Chicago during the first half of the twentieth century. Wilson & Co. meatpacking business was founded by Thomas Edward Wilson and evolved over the years to include the manufacture of sporting goods, pharmaceuticals, and industry chemicals. Wilson Sporting Goods began as a subsidiary of Wilson & Co.

The majority of the collection is comprised of biographical information, personal ephemera, correspondence, and photographs belonging to two generations of the Wilson family. The collection captures the meatpacking industry in the Midwest through the lens of one family's experience at the top.

Color advertisement. "Wilson's Certified Brand" in red lettering at the top. Text reads "Pure Pork Sausage. 'A Wholesome Delight in Every Bite,' The Wilson label protects your table." Hand-colored photograph of a young Edward Foss Wilson seated at a table holding a knife and fork. In front of him on a white table cloth are plates with sausages and pancakes, a coffee cup, and a pitcher. Edward is a white man with dark hair wearing a dark blue suite and tie.
Wilson & Co. pork sausage advertisement featuring Edward Foss Wilson, circa 1920-1927.
Thomas E. Wilson Family Collection, Box 34, Folder 1, Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.