Seriously, man. They’re not buying it.
J. Ogden Armour was the son of the Civil War industrialist Philip Danforth Armour and legendary meat packaging robber-baron of his time.
Armour the younger took the company his father had left him and turned it into a global powerhouse. Sales soared from $200 million to over $1 billion between 1901 and 1919. Such was his efforts that to this day, when you walk into a super market, it is quite likely you will find the deli meat still packaged under his family name.
In his day, his wealth marked him the second richest man on the planet with a fortune of approximately $100 million. This was equivalent to about $1.5 billion as of today.
His lifestyle was lavish. In addition to a well known 1,200 acre estate at Lake Forest, IL, it is less known that Armour also had an extravagant property in Traverse City, MI, at which this author has had the pleasure of staying. It spanned a vast wilderness, marked by an impressive mansion, a six bedroom house for the groundskeeper, large barn, boat house and lake house, with two private lakes contained on the property.
And then, quite abruptly, it all came to a halt.
Following the end of World War I, Armour made a bold call that German demand for meat would be extensive. Intent on tapping into the market Armour began to direct ships of meat products to German ports.
As report after report came back that the meat was not being purchased, Armour, ever confident that German demand was going to rebound any day, directed yet more ships to carry yet more meat.
Where it sat and rot…
Armour had underestimated the extent to which the war had exhausted Germany and left its people impoverished. Now clear with the benefits of hindsight, the Allied forces had run a heavy toll on Germany and the ensuing war reparations that followed, at the behest of France, left the country in ruin. These same effects would in many ways sow the seeds for the second World War to follow.
Armour’s efforts began to ruin his company, soon $144 million in debt. More convinced now than ever of the coming of German buyers for his meat, Armour began to route his own personal fortune directly into shipping the packaged meat to German shores.
When the smoke cleared the company had lost $125 million in less than three years. In some respects the losses for J. Ogden Armour were far worse. Armour had personally lost $1 million a day for 130 days. Bankrupted, the government, which was now outraged to watch one of America’s largest companies undergo such absurd losses from only a bet by its president, began to investigate Armour.
Armour was ousted as president of his namesake company in 1923. The Armour family was permanently broken. Yet Armour’s employees were so loyal to him that none would testify against him. The government eventually dropped its case. J. Ogden Armour died in 1927 with less than $25,000.
Following his death and with the rebound of the stock market, some stock he had retained which had been previously worthless regained a value of some $3 million, which returned his widow to wealthy status. However, the Armour family name was never again to regain the power and prestige it had known in the those early years of the Twentieth Century.