Early Omaha: Gateway to the West
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Few industries say “Omaha” like the Stockyards. This image of the Livestock Exchange Building and the Stockyards National Bank was taken about 1900. It shows the structures facing south across “Exchange Avenue” which was later changed to “O” street. At the time of the photo, the street was unpaved. The stockyards began in 1883 when Wyoming cattle baron, Alexander Swan, wanted a livestock market closer than Chicago, IL. Together with six local businessmen he formed the Union Stockyards on December 1, 1883. The Drexel farmhouse served as the very first livestock exchange. The second exchange building was constructed in 1885 by J. E. Riley and designed by Mendelssohn & Fisher. The brick structure was 4 stories high with an 80 foot tower. The main floor had public offices and the largest dining hall in Nebraska that could seat 400. The second floor was home to the original Stockyards National Bank. A separate structure was built in 1891 to the east of the Exchange. The third and fourth floors primarily served as a hotel for cattlemen doing business with the Exchange.
This postcard of the unloading docks at the Union Stockyards is dated November 14, 1914. The view looks south – southwest and shows sheep and cattle pens and Armour Packing Company in the foreground with the “O” street Viaduct in the background. Armour Packing Company was founded by Philip D. Armour on July 20, 1898. Between 1907 and 1910, most livestock pens were rebuilt and elevated walkways begun allowing buyers to view animals without threading their way through stock pens. Omaha’s Union Stockyards, at the time of the picture, was the largest sheep market in the world. The sheep barn, rebuilt in 1903 was designed to hold 100,000 head of sheep. The Stockyards were dependent upon several railroads to bring livestock to market: Union Pacific; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Missouri Pacific; Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific; Chicago & North Western; and the Wabash Railroad. On average, 20,000 animals per day were brought to the stockyards for slaughter. South Omaha was the third largest livestock market in the world at the time of this picture.
Text written by Lynn Sullivan, October 2003
Omaha Stockyards: A Century of Marketing; Commemorative Book: 1884-1984. Omaha, NE, 1984. Pages 8-11.
Savage, James. History of the City of Omaha and South Omaha. Chicago: Munsell & Company, 1894. Page 597.