|Charles E. Russell (1860-1941)|
This entity was the Beef Trust—an organization so powerful, according to Russell, that it had “impoverished or ruined farmers and stockmen, destroyed millions of investments, caused banks to break and men to commit suicide, precipitated strikes, and annihilated industries.” In some places, the trust had so much power that citizens, “even in the privacy of their offices or homes,” dared not speak a word against it. Most Americans thought of companies like Standard Oil as “the ultimate of monopolistic achievement,” but the Beef Trust was “far more vast and powerful.”
|A refrigerator car from the 1870s. Ice was used in all cars until|
mechanical refrigeration was introduced in the 1950s.
|The Armour packing plant in Chicago, ca. 1910|
By around 1900, the Beef Trust owned about 80% of all the refrigerator cars in the United States, and were transporting all manner of perishable goods, not just meat. Rival firms that did have their own cars “found that the cars of the bigger and more aggressive packers were favored by the railroads, handled more rapidly, sent back with less delay; that the car of the big house was in fact a club to beat the smaller firm to death; and they gradually got out on the best terms they could obtain. Thus the refrigerator car formed the Beef Trust.”
|Shipping fruit was serious business, and|
all communication had to be in code.
At first, the owners had every reason to think that “they had something better than a gold-mine. They voted themselves good salaries as officers...they voted themselves fat dividends as stockholders therein, and nothing seemed as easy as making money.” It was during this flush period, in 1890, that William H. Miner was hired as a mechanical superintendent for the company. His work at CFT would have shown the importance of improved draft gears to cushion wooden railcars shipping delicate cargo, and soon after being hired, he filed a patent for what would become known as the Miner tandem spring draft rigging.
|Earl Fruit Company employees, ca. 1910|
California Fruit attempted to find a new market by shipping fruit overseas to Liverpool, but this venture failed, and the company lost more money. To satisfy bank loans, they were forced to transfer 500 of their railcars over to Swift. “A period of febrile existence followed for the California Fruit Transportation Company. It became involved in a business tragedy, features of which were a bank failure, a resulting suicide; and made an end in the transfer to Swift of all the remaining California Fruit Transportation Company’s cars.”
Russell does not give the dates of these events, so it is not clear if they happened while William Miner was still working for CFT, which he did until 1897. But certainly the company’s troubles would have provided him with additional motivation to make a success of selling his draft gear, and eventually go into business for himself. We can speculate, too, as to whether this experience of the power of large conglomerates influenced Miner’s lifelong determination to keep his business in his own hands and personally control all its aspects. Russell wrote in 1905, “To all intents and purposes Swift is Armour, and the California Fruit Transportation is Swift, and the Fruit-Growers’ Express is the California Fruit Transportation, and the Beef Trust is one and all of these together.” But such a thing could never be said of W. H. Miner, Inc.
Charles Edward Russell, The Greatest Trust in the World (New York: The Ridgway-Thayer Company, 1905)
L. D. H. Weld, “Private Freight Cars and American Railways,” Studies in History, Economics and Public Law 31, no. 1 (1908).