Spanish American War and Bad Meat



The Spanish American War was the results of the Cuban struggle for independence.  The newspapers of the time in the USA described in great detail Spain’s measures to halt the rwarebellion in Cuba. American sympathy was with the rebels.  The demand for intervention grew even louder when the battleship, the USS Maine, was sunk in Havana. The Maine had been sent to protect US interest in Cuba after reports of looting in Havana.  The US Congress issued resolutions that declared Cuba’s right to independence and authorized the President to use force to secure Spanish withdrawal. Secretary of State John Hay remarked to his friend Teddy Roosevelt, that it was “a splendid little war.”

While the war had the effect of reuniting the United States that was still healing from the civil war, it also allowed America to gain Guam and Puerto Rico, and colonial domination over the Philippines.  The war, besides uniting us in a common cause, also created the Meat Inspection Act in 1906. The reason? It was claimed that of the 5,642 deaths in the war only 379 of them came from enemy fire. The rest died of food poisoning.

warIt is hard to feed soldiers in battle and is quite a large undertaking. While officers were recommending buying the cattle from Puerto Rico and right there in Cuba, the Secretary of War at the time, Russel Alger, decided to buy tinned meat from Armour, Morris and Swift.  These companies had the butchering of animals down to an assembly line process.  The government’s attitude of not interfering with that process guaranteed the companies some huge profits without inspections or regulations.


Civil War Veteran, General Nelson A Miles

The meat was not a hit with the soldiers. The meat was substandard, not well preserved and contaminated. Many of the cases burst had rotted due to improper packing.  The meat smelled like dead bodies and formaldehyde, the officers complained.  A superintendent for Armour confirmed that the meat was bad in an article in the New York Journal. Thomas Dolan was not sued for libel by Armour even though they denied the charges.

The president at the time, William McKinley appointed civil war veteran, General Nelson Miles to investigate the claims.  They found cattle that were sick with tuberculosis and gangrenous meat had been packed. Melted down gristle and bone was used as filler and the meat was preserved with toxic chemicals.  It turned out that Armour had previously sent five hundred pounds of tinned meat to Liverpool only to have it rejected. It was that meat they sent to the army.


Russel Alger, Secretary of War

No one is totally sure how many died from food poisoning  as the symptoms from food poisoning are much like yellow fever symptoms. It is possible that many of the victims of yellow fever were actually victims of Chicago cattle and  not mosquitos. Alger lost his job but none of the meat packing executives ever faced charges reprisals. Perhaps this is why no one likes spam and yet today it is a military staple.






Welky, David. “The Not-So-Splendid War.” Life: Most Notorious Scandals in America History 10 July 2015: 35. Print.