“The location was prime. The clientele was select. The product was choice.
“Unfortunately, the business just didn’t cut it.”
That was the snappy lead to an interesting story written by Mark Price, a talented reporter writing in Ohio’s Akron Beacon-Journal newspaper about the history of a local landmark that’s now a health club where people pay to sweat.
click image to zoomThe old meat plant sits abandoned in the 1950s, only to be resurrected as a health club 30 years later.
Few Akronites realize that a century ago in that same building, people got paid to sweat—only their “exercise” consisted of butchering hogs and cutting up beef, sheep and lamb carcasses, rather than a spinning class or a session on a cable TV-equipped elliptical trainer.
Most people these days only dimly recognize Akron, a city of about 200,000 people some 30 miles south of Cleveland, as the hometown of NBA star LeBron James. Yet in its nearly 100-year history Akron was once known as the Rubber Capital of the World, with Firestone, Goodyear and General Tire operating plants that manufactured tires, zeppelins and blimps—those plants are long gone—and was the original site and still the host of the Soapbox Derby (albeit under a different name now).
And as was true of so many mid-sized cities in the early 20th century, Akron had its share of meatpacking companies, one of the most ambitious being the Portage Packing Company, the subject of Price’s story.
According to his research, Portage Packing was founded in 1917 as “a lead-pipe cinch for stockholders,” a “safe, conservative investment—the kind a man can honestly recommend to his best friend.”
At the time, Akron was a growing city of 150,000 people who, the investors speculated, would always demand meat. Besides, the new business could cater to a customer base of more than 300,000 people in a 30-mile radius around Akron.
“You eat meat, your neighbor eats meat, practically everybody eats meat,” the company stated in its stock offering. “And when they do, they are increasing the demand of the packing company. If you have stock in a packing company, you don’t need to worry as to whether or not the public will support it. They must, if they expect to live.”
Can you imagine a meat company attempting to launch a new business with that line today?
Activists would be firing back in a nanosecond with a variation of Goldfinger’s famous retort to James Bond: “Expect to live? No, Mr. Meat-Eater, I expect you to die!”