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Philip Danforth Armour’s NY Times Obituary


  • Chicago Millionaire Passes Away After Two Years’ Illness.
  • Sought Health at Home and Abroad–Began to Sink with the Commencement of Winter–His Wealth Estimated as High as $50 million.
  • Chicago, January 6–Philip Danforth Armour–philanthropist, financier, and multi-millionaire, head of the vast commercial establishment that bears his name–died at his home, 2115 Prairie Avenue, at 5:45 o’clock this afternoon.
Career of P.D. Armour

From Country Lad Following the Plow to Head of the World’s Largest Packing House.

Philip Armour

Like so many others of the men who have made the United States what it is today Phillip Danforth Armour was born on a farm and passed his early years in a labor of the fields. 50 years ago he was a youth of 18, working with his father and his brothers on the family property at Stockbridge, Madison County, New York. His education had been that of the average country boy of the period, and outwardly the only difference between him and his companions was that he was a little broader shouldered and sturdier than the broad shouldered and sturdy youths among whom he worked. His father was Danforth Armour, who in 1820 married Julia Brooks, in Connecticut, and soon afterward moved with his bride to this state. Both were of old American Stock. Mrs. Armour tracing her ancestry back into early Puritan days.

But if “Phil” Armour’s training – he was “Phil” Armour from babyhood to old age– had taken that of the average farmer’s son of the 40s, his ambition was very different from that of his associates. He was born in 1832, and even when a boy at school he had made up his mind that he would go out into the world as soon as his father would allow him to do so. When he was 17 years old he heard some of the tales of the El Dorado and begged for permission to go out to California, but his father could not spare him. Danforth Armour’s family was, however, a large one. Philip had five brothers and two sisters, and in 1852 the other brothers were big enough to be of use on the farm. So Mr. Armour gave permission to Philip to leave the homestead, and in the spring of that year Philip was one of a party of 30 people which left Oneida for the wonderful land in the West.

Four years later he returned home with some thousands of dollars in his pocket as a result of hard labor as a miner on the Pacific Coast. “Phil’s” old companions expected that he would buy a farm for himself, but he had other aspirations, and in a short time he again decided to invest his little capital in some business in what was then the Middle West, and after some consideration decided to settle in Milwaukee, as to the future of which he had formed an optimistic opinion.

Philip Armour grave site

In Business For Himself

It was in Milwaukee in 1863 that Phillip Armour planted the seed of a business which has grown to be one of the most stupendous enterprises in the United States– which at the present time provides employment for 20,000 persons [Note: That is 0.3% of the entire population of the United States at the time], of which the ramifications extend all over this continent, and the products of which are sold in every corner of the globe. In 1856, Mr. Armour had formed a partnership in Milwaukee with Frederick B. Mills, in a commission business for the handling of grain and farm produce. The partnership was dissolved in 1863, but in the meantime Mr. Armour had seen the possibilities in the packing industry, and when his relations with Mr. Mills were severed he formed another partnership with John Plankington of Milwaukee, a pioneer packer.

A year previous to this Mr. Armour married Miss Belle Ogden, daughter of Jonathan Ogden of Cincinnati. He had made her acquaintance in Cincinnati when he was casting about for a suitable location to set up in business. When the couple were married Mr. Armour was rated as one of the most prosperous young men in Milwaukee. At the time he became Mr. Plankington’s partner, he was, it was said, worth $500,000.

It is said that he hesitated for a time as to whether to go into the packing or lumber industry, and that the fact that two of his brothers– Herman O. Armour and Joseph F. Armour– were in business together in Chicago, and that the future of Chicago as the center of the pork packing trade was then plain. The two Armours in Chicago were not in the packing business, but had established a commission house. However, Philip impressed upon his brothers the possibilities in the pork trade, and induce them to take it up. A partnership was later formed under the trade name of Armour & Co., the Chicago grain commission business being continued under the name of R.O. Armour & Co.

Philip Armour grave site

Invades New York

Philip D. Armour’s capital was increased by something like $2 million at the time of the Civil War. In the winter of 1865 pork was selling at $40 a barrel, with an upward tendency. Although an immense trade in pork was then done in Chicago, New York was the real center of the business, and most of the Packers and operators were buying liberally for future use is being firm believers in the continuance of high prices. Mr. Armour saw things differently. He saw that the war was nearing its end, and that when the Confederacy fell pork prices would fall with it. He made up his mind, as he always did, instantaneously.

One day the New York operators were amazed at the simplicity of a young man from Milwaukee who came among them and offered all the pork they would take at $40 a barrel. They were made still more when there was a sudden break in the price tag down to $30. But even at that price Armour kept on selling. Soon Petersburg fell and Richmond was evacuated. Then pork collapsed. Mr. Armour began to deliver the goods he had sold at from $30-$40 at $18. There was a panic among the Bulls, and some of them went the length of repudiating, or rather trying to repudiate, their contracts. Even Mr. Armour’s brokers turned against him, but he employed other brokers and, remaining in New York 90 days, pressed his debtors and force them to settle.

Thereafter the business of Armour & Co. grew so rapidly that even to describe its growth in outline would be impossible in limited space. In 1875 Mr. Armour moved to Chicago, where he had ever since then lived. A remarkable feature of the growth of the business in the manner in which all the Armour Brothers work together. One of the six enlisted in the Union Army and was killed in the Civil War. The other five were, sooner or later, all engaged in the quickly ramifying concerns of the firm.

In 1871 it was necessary for the Armours business that one of them look after the New York work, and Herman accepted that duty and removed in New York City. While Herman went to New York to watch the markets, guard the Armour credit, and oversee the distribution of grain and packing products, Simon was learning the business in Chicago, and in the fall of 1871 he appeared in Kansas City, where the Armour foresight placed him and began turning trade into the Armour channels. One brother was left on the farm– the youngest Andrew Watson Armour. It was not until 1879 that the elder brothers called him to their aid. They needed a bank at Kansas City. It was necessary that in Armour gave his attention to it. Joseph had died in Chicago, and Philip had to give his personal attention to the big main plant. Simon was tied down at the Kansas City House and Herman was immersed in the New York end of the business. So Andrew was taken from the old homestead and installed in the office of bank president at Kansas City. Andrew died in 1893, Simon in March 1899.

Deals of Twenty Years Ago

In 1879 Mr. Armour engaged in a deal that, it was said, netted him no less than $4 million. Operators on the Chicago Board of trade thought it a good year in which to sell pork, and the bear movement was engaged in by men who had never speculated in pork before. The Armours were turning out their products on a larger scale than ever before. Other packing houses join the bear movement, and Mr. Armour was forced to support the market for months at a great loss. However, he foresaw that the tide would turn, and took all the pork that was offered. The tide did turn, and he recovered all his losses, together with the millions of added profit.

Mr. Armour was a great speculator, but he often declared that his great “deals” were the result of circumstances rather than a desire to profits other’s losses. His desire to save several old friends led him into the memorable wheat operation of 1882. He took all the wheat offered, and for months kept the price in Chicago higher than in any other market in the world. He ended by realizing a large profit.

At the present time the development of the firm of Armour & Co. has extended to almost every industry connected with the provision, manufacture, and carriage of food products. Armour & Co. only cars that carry their refrigerated beef and pork and the many different kinds of preserved, cayenne, and cured food. The firm owns the steamers that take its products to the market to the world. It’s grain interests are of great importance in the grain trade of the West.

How the Business Grew

When Mr. Armour first engaged in the packing business pork was shipped to the markets from nearby farms, the killing and dress in taking place in the farm. The bulk of the shipments were made in the cold season, for refrigeration was then in its infancy. One of the first things Mr. Armour turned his attention to was the shipment of live hogs. He had to fight against the prejudices of the farmer and commission man and the lack of proper railroad facilities; but in a year or two hogs began to enter Chicago in a larger number than poor carcasses.

The next great improvement was the introduction of canned products. Then, in 1880, experiments were begun in shipping dressed beef in refrigeration. At the same time the Armours started to buy their own cars and establish their own distributing plants in the great cities of the East. The head of the firm at the same time turned his attention to the export trade. Refrigerated pork and beef were sent by ship to England, and afterward to France and Germany, until now the Armour products go all over the world. In multitude of inventions for saving waste products and using them in various ways had been introduced, and these also added to the ever-growing volume of business done by the firm.

Add to all of these in a man’s trade in grain– a trade which at the present time is said to reach $30 million a year– and one has even then only a very small idea of the interests which centered in the brain of the man who died yesterday. It was in an office on the first floor of the Home Insurance Building, LaSalle and Adams Streets, Chicago, that Philip D. Armour used to hear every day the reports from his 60 odd confidential men on his myriad enterprises.

Visitors to Chicago went to see the giant stockyards; heard the name of Philip D. Armour ever quoted by Board of Trade men; saw the names of Armour & Co. on cars on the railroads; saw great charitable institutions founded by the head of the firm, and then, when they learn that these were only a part of the enterprises engaged in by this man, who found time to personally succor the afflicted and attend to the needs of his employees, they went away, wondering– or skeptical.

Philip Armour

The Armour Wealth

Mr. Armour’s wealth is a subject that may never be accurately known. It is estimated to be not less than $30 million and by some to exceed $60 million. The combined wealth of the Chicago Armours is fixed at $60 million. In one sense the total is the wealth of Philip D. Armour, but just how much has been carried in his own name and how much in the name of his sons is unknown. He had not been a borrower. He had always been able to pay cash for his purchases and he had never asked a customer to discount a bill.

In his great wheat deals he always had ready cash. In time to panic yet shown vast resources in spot cash. In 1893, when a run was made upon the banks of Chicago and the credit of the city and the fate of the exposition was a pain in the balance, Philip D. Armour bought half a million of gold in Europe and offered to help the big institutions of the city from his cash resources in Chicago.

Mr. Armour was a heavy owner in the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Company and in the reorganized Baltimore and Ohio. He was interested largely an Illinois Trust and Savings, Metropolitan National, and the National Trust Banks of Chicago, and in the Armour Bank of Kansas City.

Mr. Armour’s Charities

Mention has elsewhere been made of the conferences held by Mr. Armour every day with his confidential men. Sometimes many days pass between the visits of any particular one of these heads of departments. But never a day pass that Mr. Armour was not closeted for a considerable time with the Reverend Dr. Frank Gunsaulus, who advised him regarding all his charities.

The greatest of the many philanthropic institutions founded or assisted by Mr. Armour is a wonderful Armour Institute of Technology, on Dearborn Street, Chicago. This was established in 1893, with the object of providing industrial training of a superior character. But Mr. Armour’s enterprises had a habit of developing into things of a far wider scope than was originally intended, and the Institute has been no exception. It is now furnishing instruction for all classes of society, and its aim is to afford educational opportunities second to none in the United States. New courses are being added continually, and the merging into it of all other institutions has greatly increased the efficiency of its teaching.

Almost directly after it was founded it was discovered that it was not alone in the people for which it was intended who are profiting by the instruction given at the Institute. One of the cookery instructors discovered that she was teaching almost as many society women as domestics. Another man might have proceeded to make stringent rules in order to bring this sort of thing in the future, but not so Mr. Armour. Instead, he enlarge the scope of the cookery classes, and other classes by which women might profit, such as those in the millinery and dressmaking, were provided.

As to his private benefactions, it is impossible to give any idea of their amount, because Mr. Armour was not in the habit of letting his left hand know– in regard to charity– what his right hand was doing. Only by the relations of others has any idea been obtained of his ever active work on behalf of the suffering and afflicted. He had less trouble with his employees than almost any great employer of labor in this country, for the reason that those who work for him loved and admired him as few of those who have amassed great fortunes are loved and admired. Here is a sample anecdote of Mr. Armour’s treatment of his men:

One day, on going into his office, he found a police man in the corridor. “What is going on here, sir?” He asked.

“I am here to serve a paper,” was the reply.

“What kind of a paper?” asked Mr. Armour.

“I want to garnish see one of your men’s wages for debt,” said the police man.

“Indeed,” replied Mr. Armour: “and who is the man?” He thereupon asked the police man into his private office and order that the debtor command. He then asked the clerk how long he had been in debt. Their man replied that for 20 years he had been behind in that he could not catch up.

“But you get a good salary.” sadi Mr. Armour, “don’t you?”

“Yes,” said the clerk, “but IKEA get out of debt. My life is such that somehow or other I can’t get out.”

“But you must get out.” said Mr. Armour, “were you must leave here. How much do you owe?”

The clerk then gave the amount. It was less than $1000. Mr. Armour tucked his checkbook and wrote out a check for the amount.

“There,” said he, as he handed the clerk the check. “There is now enough to pay all your debts. And I want you to keep out of debt, and if I hear of you again getting into debt you will have to leave.”

The man took the check. He did pay his debts and he remodeled his life on a cash basis.

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