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Iowa History Daily: November 24 - Rath Packing Company

Iowa History Daily: On November 24, 1891, the Rath Packing Company of Waterloo first opened for business. For almost 100 years, the company stood as one of Iowa’s finest meat packing operations while serving as a major economic force along the Cedar River.

George John Rath, a German immigrant, started the company after his pork packing plant in Dubuque burned down during February of 1891. With his son, Edward Frederick, Rath negotiated a deal with the Waterloo Board of Trade (later Chamber of Commerce) to open. The deal included $10,000 in capital, land for a plant, and tax concessions.

George John Rath got cold feet and decided not to leave Dubuque, but his son and a cousin named John Rather of Ackley decided to take up the Waterloo offer. Initially focused only on processing hogs, the plant added beef and lamb operations during the early 1900s. Pairing technological innovations like vacuum canning meats and dry curing bacon with demand increases during the World Wars, Rath thrived over the first-half of the 20th century.

By the end of World War II, Rath stood as the fifth largest meat packing company in America. The good times, however, did not last. A large and violent labor dispute in 1948 led to a declaration of martial law, and increased competition in the industry led to leaner times. By the mid 1970s Rath's 50-year-old four-story plant proved obsolete, and the employee-owned company operated at a loss during the early 1980s before liquidating in 1985. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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