Mower County Obituaries
Part 215



George A. Hormel



Body to Lie in State 1 to 3 P.M.
Just Preceding Funeral Service;
Interment at Oakwood Private

George A. Hormel, 85, died in a hospital in Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 (Pacific Time), about six hours after his son, Jay C. Hormel had reached his bedside. Mr. Hormel had suffered a stroke on Monday, and on receipt of the news of his father's illness, Jay C. Hormel and his son went by train to California.

The body will be brought to this city from Los Angeles via Boone, Iowa, reaching here Saturday afternoon, and will lie in state in the YWCA rooms from one o'clock to 3:30. Fifteen of the older employees of the plant will act as guides to direct the line of citizens as they enter, pass by the casket and move on out the opposite side of the building.

At 4 o'clock there will be a simple funeral service, that will follow closely the services held for Mrs. Hormel, in the same place Tuesday, March 29.

The 4 o'clock service will be as was that of Mrs. Hormel, for relatives and friends of the family and old time friends.

There are to be no flowers except the one from the family, and such as may come from outside organizations. The interment at Oakwood cemetery is to be strictly private and none would presume to trespass upon such a moment.

All of Mr. Hormel's brothers are planning to be present.

* * * *


George A. Hormel, 86, founder of the George A. Hormel & Co. of this city was born on December 4, 1860 at Buffalo, N.Y. He came to Austin and entered the retail meat business in October 1887. February 24, 1892 he married Lillian Belle Gleason of this city. To them was born Jay C. Hormel, now president of the Hormel Company. In November 1901 the George A. Hormel & Co. was incorporated with capital stock of $50,000. Mr. Hormel remained as president of the company until the spring of 1928 when he withdrew in favor of his son Jay, who has continued in that position since. Mr. Hormel accepted the position as chairman of the board which he held until the time of his death.

Mr. Hormel was a member of the city council in 1901 and 1902. In 1903 Mayor C.F. Cook appointed him to the five year term on the then newly constituted board of electric light, power and water commissioners.

Mrs. George A. Hormel died at her home in Bel Air, California, March 23rd of this year. The funeral was held from the old home of the Hormel family, now the home of the YWCA. Both of them had been deeply interested in this organization, and have maintained it since the house was given to the organization when the Hormels moved to California, the year he resigned the presidency of the Hormel company. Mr. Hormel has made provision for the maintenance of this home of the YWCA.

He is survived by his son Jay and Mrs. Hormel, and their children, George A. 2nd., Thomas Dubois, and Jay Catherwood.

Of the twelve children born to John G. and Susan Decker Hormel, of which George A. was the second, the following survive: Miss Elizabeth Hormel and Mrs. A.M. Stewart of Hollywood, Calif., Rev. Henry Hormel of Owosso, Michigan, Mrs. L.P. Fischer of Long Beach, Calif. John G. Hormel of Palm Springs, Calif., Benjamin F. Hormel of Los Angeles.

Mrs. F.P. Wells died at Riverside, California, January 15, 1943 and Herman G. Hormel died in this city, May 9, 1944.


The above is but a brief summary of the life of the man whose name will ever be associated with the growth and prosperity of this city and county. It is the epitome of the life of the man who established a business that has carried the name of Hormel and Austin to every corner of the world. That summary is largely statistical. It is largely what the historians recording the lifetime of a man who has attained prominence, will record in their dictionaries of prominent names in art, science, industry, trade, etc. The days of early struggles, the heartaches, the near failures, the overcoming of great odds and obstacles are not shown in a brief summary of a man's life. The true story of George A. Hormel is one that surely should be inspirational to all who read it.


When George was a small child, his father went into partnership in the tannery and wool pulling business at Toledo, Ohio. It was hard work getting established in those days of competition and the family had to practice the most rigid economy. In 1873 came the great panic, when down went the stock exchange, all the great banks of the country had runs upon them, the great financial institutions crashed and industry was paralyzed. Millions were thrown out of work. George who at the age of eight years, had been helping in his father's business, had had no formal schooling after he was twelve. When the crash came in '73, George's father had to go out of business.

George, a boy, joined the ranks of millions in search of work and got a job in a sawmill, his pay being 50 cents a day. When he was 15, he went to Chicago and got a job in the packinghouse that supplied ships with meats. The company moved to Texas and again George had to seek a job. When 19, he went to Kansas City where he was hired as a buyer of hides, wool and furs. Later he went back to Chicago and was assigned to the Des Moines branch of the Hosick & Co, and continued to the hide, wool, and fur business.

It was during the eight years that he was with this company, that he came to Austin as a part of his territory. He did not know it, but that was the turning point in his career. Then the Hormel & Co. was conceived.


George A. Hormel, in his going up and down the country buying hides, noted the wasteful manner in which the slaughtering houses were conducting their business. The thrift of his early training, rebelled at this waste and he decided he would enter the business as a retail meat dealer and slaughterer of hogs and beef in a more thrifty manner, figuring that the saving he could make over the wasteful methods would make it profitable.

Among the meat markets here in that time was the firm of Anton Friedrich on Bridge street. On the night of May 25, 1887, this and the building adjoining it burned to the ground, the fire fighters hauling water in buckets from the underground reservoir and well at the southwest corner of courthouse square. Friedrich's loss was $13,600. They rebuilt. George A. Hormel came to town buying hides. With four hundred dollars, all the wealth he owned in the world, he became a partner, and the name over the door was changed to Friedrich & Hormel. After four years, Mr. Hormel wanted a place of his own, and the only vacant room was one on Mill street, just east of what is now Lane's Pharmacy. The street was then dubbed "Bourbon Avenue" as it was a street of saloons. That was in 1892. He made his market as modern as such a place of business could be in those days.


But he was not satisfied. He was making a superior quality of sausage and peddling it around the country with a mule drawn wagon. At the same time his mat market had been made the finest in town. His help all had to wear white aprons, the windows had to be washed every day, and the flies were barred by screen doors as far as possible.

But that was not satisfying the ambition of this young man. He wanted to get into the pork packing business. He leased, with the option of buying, a disused creamery that stood by itself, on a part of the land now covered by the present plant of the Hormel company. At about this time, Mr. Hormel did what he often said was the greatest thing of his career. He married Lillian Belle Gleason. Thrift was a common trait of both of these young people. They knew how to work and how to save.


He took over the creamery and installed some machinery. It was only after the growing business had killed it's 100,000th hog that Mr. Hormel relinquished to his most expert floor-man, the job of splitting the hog -- an operation most important in the ensuing cut and trim.

Along with his management of the business, there was the favoring transportation of Southern Minnesota from a new country of when and homestead to a corn and hog country. Also there was the perfection of refrigeration in the plant and in the railway car which gave to the Hormel company, located at the point of production, an economic advantage that had lain, because of the perishability of pork, with the plants in the big eastern centers of production.

With his two hands he found time to make over the creamery into a "packinghouse" and with a crew of four men in November 1891, he began the new business.

His brother, Ben, age 14, was shortly added to that crew. Mr. Hormel's energy was unbounded. He utilized his new retail store and his new outside property in every way he could "to make a dollar." He continued to buy hides, putting up signs bidding for them on the country roads. He became the most productive agent for a Twin City cream and poultry buying house, and he circularized the trappers of the Northwest, working up a fur trade.


Later that year it must have become apparent to him that his greatest possibilities lay with his new packinghouse. He had his brothers, Herman and John come to join him that year, and the weekly "kill" of livestock, and the ensuing sales of meat began to climb. he borrowed heavily to build a three-story, sizable brick building. That first fiscal year ended November 1892, the new packinghouse had handled 610 head of livestock.

In a letter to his son, Jay, written in 1936 in reminiscence of those days, Mr. Hormel said, "I barely got organized in 1892, when the panic of 1893 started. It was considered the worst panic on record at that time, and it kept me in overalls working with my men until 1900 when I was 40 years old. I used to envy my men when they left the plant with their dinner pails. They were through for the day, and I often wondered if the gain, if any, was worth the fight. Up to that time I did not have a desk at the plant, but took my books and correspondence home at night after I was through with the days work. I was shooting in the dark and had no assurance that I would be able to make the grade.

But the packinghouse grew under Mr. Hormel's keen knowledge of the many phases of the business, under his insistence upon uniformity and excellence of product and against waste. Mr. Hormel once said that he had learned much of how not to conduct a slaughtering business in his eight years on the road buying hides from local butchers that his early packinghouse business "was built on what the other fellow threw away."


You cannot tell the whole story of a successful man's life through the columns of a newspaper. Only the outstanding features of that life of thought and work can be touched upon. The young man who came here and made a success of making sausages which he peddled around the country, had lived to see the buildings of his industry become the skyline of the city. He had seen that city, under the impulse given it by his plant, grow from a population of less than 3000 people to a city advancing close to the 30,000 mark. The little meat market, then the creamery, then the first brick building, then followed the rapid development of one of the world's great meat-producing plants.

From a little handful of employees, of whom his brothers constituted the majority, he lived to see nearly 6000 men and women taking home their weekly pay envelopes more money than was ever paid to employees in that kind of business. He had seen the straight time, the bonus plan, the profit-sharing and other employee's benefits made the subject of writeups in magazines and newspapers throughout the whole civilized world.


The name of George A. Hormel and his son, Jay C. Hormel, are as familiar as the names of rulers and presidents. But in all those years of growth and prosperity, the name of Hormel was grouped with the names of the great meat packers, he was always just "George" during his life in this city. And on his frequent visits here after his removal to California, he was just plain "George" to the hometown folks.

George A. Hormel knew the tragedy of the economic panics in that wreck of 1873. It was in the depression days of the late 1880's he started in business here as retail meat dealer. It was in the dark days of another depression when he built the first brick building for his plant.

His business demanded more money, more buildings, more machinery, a larger force of workers. To realize what were his tasks, one must go back in the history of little pork packing plants in this middlewest, as well as larger plants in the big centers. Thousands of hogs were slaughtered on farms in the winter season and sold to the packers in a frozen condition. There was no stability in the meat business. The situation was getting where it was no longer a one-man job, and in November the George A. Hormel & Co. was incorporated with $50,000 capital, the incorporators being George A. Hormel, Herman G. Hormel, A. L. Eberhart, John G. Hormel and B.F. Hormel.


Then followed the days of development and growth on a rapid scale. Jay C. Hormel, who had finished school and gone overseas in the World War I, came back and became the associate and worker with his father, to add greater efforts and bring greater success to the plant, whose products were to be carried in ships to all lands, and by rail to all parts of North America.

Then into those days of growth and successful operation of a great industry there came a test of its stability, those days when it was a question of the survival of the Hormel plant as such, or if the banking interests of the country would take the plant from the hands of those who had made it.

Ramson (Cy) Thomson was comptroller of the finances of the company. The company in 1920 had paid the farmers and stock-raisers 20 million dollars, a million and half was paid in wages and salaries, 1300 people depended upon the Hormel plant for their wages. Everything seemed to be as the owners could wish when came the discovery of the defalcation by Cy Thomson of $2,577,178. But few of the people of this city knew for many days of that exact shortage, and they carried heavy minds. The George A. Hormel company owed the banks of the country that vast sum. George A. Hormel was called to Chicago to meet with these men of finance of New York, Chicago and the Twin Cities, when they were to decide what should be done with the Hormel company's plant.


He met that body of keen businessmen and business is never friendship. Mr. Hormel stood before them an told them the story of his life and struggles. He told his story in simple, honest words, and during its recital no one interrupted the story as it fell from his lips. He was fighting not only for his plant into which he had poured all his ability, energy, and physical work, but he was speaking for the city of Austin, for should that body of bankers vote adversely, it was probable that Austin as well as the plant would be wiped out, the city a ghost town around a vacant industrial plant. He had with him the figures to show that his plant was a successful one, that it could earn the debt of over two and a half million.

On his financial statement and his knowledge of the business he was questioned sharply and by keen minds. It was a terrific mental strain for Mr. Hormel, but his was a character that while little things might annow him, he could face the big problems and difficulties with quiet and analytical calmness.

He waited. The bankers went into conference as to what should be done with the Hormel plant. Then came the answer, an answer that was a tribute to the integrity and ability of the man who had been making the plea. They believed him. They were satisfied with his honesty, they were satisfied that he would keep his promise to pay back the two and a half million dollar debt, through his hard work and ability.

For a year, and perhaps a little longer, a receiver for the bankers sat in the Hormel office, taking the earnings to pay that debt. It was a happy day when Mr. Hormel saw the plant return to his own management, the debt paid.

* * * * *


It was George A. Hormel and his son, Jay C., who saved this city form a financial blow in 1926. The state bank commissioner came to Austin one morning and called on Jay C. Hormel and told him that unless $300,000 was raised to protect the depositors of the Austin National Bank, that institution would not be allowed to open its doors. Later in the morning a small group of men met at Jay C. Hormel's home, and heard the same words told to them by the bank commissioner. All day long there was a canvassing of bank papers. it was all true, $300,000 was to be lost to the people of this city and community. A closed bank meant a run on other banks; $300,000 was a lot of money to be picked up at a few hours; notice. It was approaching the closing time of the banks, and the warning was: "That bank will not be opened tomorrow morning."

Jay C. Hormel called his father by phone. He told of the situation, that if the bank was not opened that the workers of the plant, the farmers of the community and citizens in general, merchants and business men would loose $300,000, that runs on the other banks would take place. That there would be panic and financial distress in this city.

Back came the answer to buy the bank and keep it open. That night the Herald was very late when it was printed, and it carried the news that the Hormel company had become the owner of the Austin National bank. The depositors in that bank knew nothing of a situation that was as dramatic as it was threatening.

And that is the story of the life of a man who was known and honored by all who knew him. A man of integrity and ability. One who came up by his own efforts from the boy seeking a job to live, to be founder of what has become the most talked and written about industry in the world. The name of Hormel is indelibly inscribed upon the industrial history of the United States.

[ Austin Herald, June 6, 1946 ]
Contributed to Mower/MNGenWeb by
Mark Ashley, 9/2012