George A. Hormel
BUSINESS TO HALT AS CITY PAYS
TRIBUTE TO HORMEL CO. FOUNDER;
RITES SATURDAY AT 4 AT YWCA
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.
* * * *
SUMMARY OF HIS LIFE
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.
GEORGE A. HORMEL
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.
IN TANNERY BUSINESS
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.
REBELLED AT WASTE
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
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.
WAS NOT YET SATISFIED
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."
BROUGHT GROWTH TO CITY
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.
JUST PLAIN "GEORGE"
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.
GEORGE TOLD HIS STORY
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.
* * * * *
SAVED CITY FROM
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