Today Chicago, Illinois, is considered the meat packing capital of the United States. But that title was supposed to have gone to another town.
Back in the late 1860’s, Texas cattlemen were having a problem with a disease called Texas fever. Although Texas Longhorns got the disease, it didn’t affect them. But northern cattle, exposed to ticks from Texas Longhorns, were adversely affected. Because of this, cattle drives were not allowed to travel through Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky, which basically cut them off from Northern markets.
A young man from Illinois named Joseph McCoy got the idea to transport the Texas Longhorns through the quarantine states on trains. He selected the remote town of Abilene, Kansas, as the point to pick up the cattle.
Next he had to find a destination point, and a railroad to deliver the cattle. McCoy chose St. Louis, Missouri. The Missouri-Pacific was the railroad that ended in St. Louis. So, at the age of 19, he presented his idea to the president of the railroad.
The railroad president said, “It occurs to me that you haven’t any cattle to ship and never did have any, and I, sir, have no evidence that you ever will have. Therefore you get out of this office, and let me not be troubled with any more of your style.”
McCoy found a warmer reception from the St. Jo Railroad that happened to end in Chicago. On September 5, 1867, the first train pulled out of Abilene. During that first year, almost 1,000 carloads of cattle were shipped to Chicago. The next year 75,000 cattle were shipped.
Realizing his mistake, the president of the Missouri-Pacific Railroad now tried to solicit McCoy’s business. Joseph McCoy told him, “It occurs to me that I have no cattle for your railroad, never have had and there is no evidence that I ever will have.”