Swift and Company, headquartered in Fort Worth, was a major branch of the nation's leading nineteenth-century meat-packing firm and one of the nation's Big Four meat-packers of the early 1900s. The company was founded in Chicago in the 1880s by Gustavus Franklin Swift, inventor of the refrigerated railway car. Swift's technological innovation enabled his company to deliver fresh meat from meat-packing centers in the Midwest to large urban markets in the Northeast. Prior to his invention, livestock were slaughtered and packed for shipment in barrels of salt. Swift and Company was drawn to Texas by entrepreneur Greenlief W. Simpson, a wealthy Bostonian who moved to Fort Worth in 1893. Simpson had purchased the Fort Worth Union Stockyards that year from a group of Fort Worth businessmen and sought to establish a gathering point for the region's livestock by offering Texas cattlemen fifty cents more per head than the livestock market in Kansas City. The rush of cattlemen offering their herds to Simpson swamped his capacity and led to cash shortfalls. To ensure a buyer for regional livestock and improve his cash flow, Simpson hoped to attract Swift and Company and Armour and Company, the era's two largest meat packers, to Texas. Swift and Company were interested in relocating meat-packing operations closer to places where cattle were raised and entered into negotiations with Simpson, the city of Fort Worth, and Armour in the late 1890s.
Despite obvious benefits to all parties, Swift and Armour agreed to develop operations in Texas only after negotiating subsidies from both Fort Worth and Simpson. Each company received roughly twenty-two acres on which to build a meat-packing plant and a one-third interest in the Fort Worth Stockyards Company. A Fort Worth citizens' committee raised $100,000 to be divided between the two companies. In exchange, Swift and Armour agreed that all livestock slaughtered in their plants would pass through the Fort Worth Stockyards Company and that they would pay customary yardage and other charges. As a result of their combined two-thirds ownership of the Fort Worth Stockyards Company, J. Ogden Armour was named president and Edward F. Swift, son of Gustavus Swift, was named vice president. Simpson was named second vice president. The agreement was finalized around 1902, and the Swift and Company plant opened in March 1904, during the annual fat stock show. Within ten months, the Swift and Armour plants had spent six million dollars to purchase 265,272 cattle, 128,934 hogs, and 40,160 sheep. Within a few years, West Texas cattle once driven up the Eastern and Chisholm trails to slaughterhouses or rail stops in the Midwest were all processed at Fort Worth. By 1904 Fort Worth was the country's fifth largest livestock market behind Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha, and St. Louis.
The Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906 constituted the first industry regulation, and legislation to regulate stockyards passed fifteen years later. Spurred on by its early success, Swift and Company added a canning factory at its plant site in 1906, and in 1908 doubled its plant capacity by adding beef, calf, and sheep coolers, fertilizer plants, an enlarged hog slaughtering area, and new pork and curing cellars. To meet increased demand, the Fort Worth Stockyards Company expanded its pen capacity to accommodate 18,000 cattle and 14,000 hogs. In 1918 the company again expanded, raising its slaughtering capacity from 1,500 to 2,000 cattle per day. Swift developed local investments in Fort Worth as it had in cities where it established other meat-packing plants. With Armour, it became joint owner of the Fort Worth Belt Railway Company, the Stockyards National Bank of North Fort Worth, the Fort Worth Cattle Loan Company, and the Reporter Publishing Company, which published The Live Stock Report until the 1920s. In 1921 Congress passed a Packers and Stockyards Act to limit the influence of meat-packers. The federal law required meat-packing companies to liquidate their interests in stockyards, banks, cattle loan companies, railroads, and industry trade publications. Both Swift and Armour accepted the law grudgingly, delaying complete compliance for over a decade through litigation. While still controlled by Swift and Armour, the Fort Worth Stockyards Company sold its Belt Railway to the Texas and Pacific and the Missouri Pacific in 1931 and its Stockyard National Bank to Fort Worth National Bank in 1934. In 1936 Swift established a new corporation known as United Stockyards, which enabled it to comply with the letter of the law, but also to acquire majority interests in eleven stockyards, including the Fort Worth Stockyards Company. United Stockyards owned the plant and land upon which the Fort Worth Stockyards Company operated until 1989.
By 1958 the Fort Worth plant of Swift and Company was valued at $10 million. The company employed more than 1,700 people and processed raw materials totalling $65 million annually. In its heyday the firm provided medical care, emergency leave, and a pension plan for workers, held company picnics at Lake Worth, sponsored a marching band, chorale group, baseball teams, and educational offerings, along with a company newsletter. Unionization had come to the stockyards with the Great Depression, but members of the National Brotherhood of Packinghouse Workers, to which Swift employees belonged, did not participate in stockyards strikes in 1946 and 1952. But the 1950s also marked the decline of the meat-packing industry in Fort Worth, as local livestock auctions and feedlots replaced the need for centralized markets. A drought in West Texas exacerbated the difficult times and led to Swift and Company's first employee layoffs in 1951. Decreased demand for its products forced Armour to close its Fort Worth plant in 1962. Rumors that Swift would cease operations led Local No. 9 of the National Brotherhood of Packinghouse Workers to accept pay cuts in 1962 and 1969 to save the Swift plant and its 1,400 employees. At the time Swift had a payroll that exceeded $10 million and spent an annual $50 million buying livestock. Efforts to save the plant failed, however, and in 1971 Swift closed its Fort Worth meat-packing plant. Two fires in the mid-1970s destroyed the plant, leaving only the firm's administrative offices, which later housed an Old Spaghetti Warehouse restaurant. In 1988 a state historical marker was placed at the former packing house site.