The meat-packing industry developed in Texas simultaneously with the cattle industry. The first important meat-packing plants were located at Victoria, Rockport, and Fulton, where early experiments with shipping under refrigeration were conducted. In 1865 Francis Stabler of Baltimore, Maryland, began packing meat in cans at Indianola with his patented carbonic-acid gas process, but Fort Worth became the Texas center of the meat-packing industry as cattle drives moved the cattle industry north and west. In 1901 two major meat-packing plants were established in Fort Worth, Swift and Company and Armour. In 1950 Fort Worth remained the most important locale of the industry, although one national concern, Jacob E. Decker and Company, had ham and sausage plants at Dallas, San Antonio, Texarkana, and Houston, and Wilson and Company maintained plants for turkey and poultry dressing at Abilene, Amarillo, and Lubbock. Smaller meat-packing plants operating in local areas were at San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, El Paso, Goliad, Kennedy, Victoria, and Yorktown.
In 1939 there were sixty-six meat-packing plants in the state, and meat packing was the second-ranking food industry in total value of the product. Based on value added by manufacture the industry ranked seventh. In 1870 meat packing ranked second of Texas industries; in 1880 it fell into a position of minor importance; in 1890 it was still not among the first half-dozen; in 1900 it ranked sixth; in 1910, taken together with wholesale slaughtering, it ranked first; in 1920 it was second; and in 1930 it ranked third. During the 1950s and through the 1960s meat packing in Texas expanded from an industry characterized by a large number of small, low-volume firms to an industry comprising a small number of large slaughterhouses and wholesale distributors. By 1955 Texas had 153 large or medium-sized plants with 10,464 employees and a total value added by manufacturing of $68,548,000. From 1954 to 1958 the total sales volume of Texas packing plants increased 12 percent as the industry spent $2,952,000 in new capital investments. By 1959 the 220 Texas packing plants had a volume of 1,490,477,000 pounds of meat and cured products.
Texas slaughterers received more than 84 percent of their cattle from Texas suppliers in the South Texas Plains. Cows, calves, and range sheep constituted the major livestock from this area, while substantial numbers of stocker-feeder cattle and lambs were shipped outside the state for slaughter. In 1966, 200 of the 800 slaughtering plants were classified as medium to large producers. Total red-meat production for 1968 had increased to 1,763,000,000 pounds. In 1968 the Texas industry slaughtered 2,782,000 cattle, 345,200 calves, 1,978,000 hogs, and 1,404,000 sheep and lambs. In 1984 there were 321 slaughter plants in Texas; that number fell to 224 in 1994. In 1993 there were 6,053,000 cattle, 28,000 calves, 302,000 hogs, and 384,846,000 chickens slaughtered in Texas. Total red-meat production in 1993 reached 4,148,904,000 pounds.