The direct economic impact of the Omaha Stockyards at its height is obvious. But there was also an indirect economic and social impact on the city generated by the thousands of livestock growers and their families coming to the city.
In addition, in its early years, the stockyards attracted large numbers of immigrant families to Omaha to work in the yards and packinghouses. Ethnic communities grew up around the stockyards.
“I was in the Irish part of South Omaha,” Tom Hoffman says. “North of us, over in the area of St. Stanislav’s Church was where the Polish community was. Just north and east of us, the Irish thing, was a place called the Belgian Curve. Where the Belgians and the Flemish people lived. And then east of us, which would be east of the stockyards was the place called Brown Park where the Bohemian people and Czechs lived… And then south of the stockyards… that’s where the Croatian and the Slavic peoples lived.
“I probably forgot some poor ethnic group. But it was very tight knit,” Tom says.
Also surrounding the stockyards were the services that the traveling buyers and sellers needed – banks, hotels, barber shops, restaurants, saloons and even clothing and hardware stores.
In the early part of the 20th century, farmers and cattlemen tended to come to Omaha by themselves, leaving their families at home. Tom says some of the men might have acted up a bit. “The saloons in South Omaha did a gigantic business,” he says. “People retired with opulent wealth from running a saloon there in South Omaha.
In addition, the families would travel to the downtown department stores to buy those special items that they couldn’t always find in the small town stores back home – like prom dresses or a new suit. The families were often flush with money from the sale of a year’s hard work, and this was before the advent of shopping malls.
Later, the entire family began coming according to Tom Hoffman. “The ladies of the family oftentimes would sit in the lobby,” Tom says. But occasionally, the wives, sons and daughters would come out to see the cattle, walking on the elevated walkways 10 feet above Tom and the other yardmen. “They usually stayed up on the high walk… You didn’t have to go through all the pens and the brown stuff as we referred to it earlier… Now this is the randy part of me – we’d see the ladies, the daughters up on the high walk and jeans were not a popular item to wear then. So, there were views that were afforded to us that we, you know, being young and active, we enjoyed.”
“They’d go downtown to Brandeis, Nebraska Clothing Company, Goldstein-Chapman’s for the ladies stores,” Tom says. “My mother was milliner there for many years.”
Beulah Gocke remembers marketing trips to Omaha as a vacation, rather than pure business. “The family got to go along,” she remembers, “and we got to go shopping a little bit. Downtown Omaha, no less! If the cattle sold good, why, then maybe you got to eat at Johnny’s Cafe.”
When an interviewer asks what they had to eat, Beulah quickly replies, “Well, beef, of course!”
There was also a social impact on the city. The Livestock Exchange Building had a huge ballroom and banquet facility covering most of the 10th floor, and that facility was in high demand for dinners, conventions, square dances and other functions. The Stockyards also sponsored an annual 4-H show and auction that attracted participants from around the region.
It’s estimated that for every dollar generated directly by the stockyards, there was an additional three- to five-dollars generated in indirect economic impact. In ways large and small, the Omaha Stockyards had a huge impact on the city as a whole.
Written by Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First published in 2007. A partial bibliography of sources is here.