Blog post by Randi Richardson
For many years, in many homes and restaurants, tins of Winterlein lard and other Winterlein meat products were a common sight. Bloomington Packing Company, manufacturer of Winterlein merchandise, was founded in 1922 by Ernest Reuter, Elzie L. Baldwin and Fred G. Baierlein, all former residents of Muncie. Winterlein was created from the last syllable of each of their names.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 8, 1927, a fire started in the smoke rooms of the Bloomington Packing Company. Although the Bloomington Fire Department responded promptly they were hampered by a lack of water. Before the fire could be extinguished, more than $2,000 worth of hides and a large quantity of fresh and smoked meats were burned and the plant was completed destroyed. Not long afterward, the plant was rebuilt on the same site 2 ½ miles northwest of the square off of Hensonburg Road.
Work in packing plants was often dangerous as described by Upton Sinclair in his historical novel, The Jungle, published in 1906. Most workers earned just pennies per hour and labored ten hours a day. Reuter, Baldwin and Baierlein, by their own report, worked from 4 AM to 9 PM almost daily those first few years.
Bloomington Packing plant employees went on strike in late 1936 in an effort to unionize. Vernon Fiscus was on a voluntary picket line on a road leading to the packing plant when he was shot and wounded by Ernest Baldwin, manager of Bloomington airport and the son of Elzie Baldwin, one of the plant’s owners. The strike was settled in June 1937. At that time Thomas Hutson, the state labor commissioner noted that the strike “was the oldest in Indiana.”
For the next few years, it was business as usual. Then a second fire brought destruction to the plant in August 1951. It began with a grease fire in a smoke room and swept through the sausage and cooking rooms causing damages estimated at $75,000 including the loss of five tons of meat. Firemen fought the blaze for seven hours stopping it just short of the company offices.
Once again the company regrouped and expanded. By 1955, the company employed over 100 local, full-time people and purchased over 43,000 hogs and cattle from area farmers each year. It was said they sold about 50 percent of all the meat consumed in Bloomington.
Undoubtedly the dynamics of the business changed as the founders passed away. Fred Baierlein, a native German, was the first to go. He died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 45 in 1949. Elzie Baldwin, 65, died in 1958 at the Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. At the time of his death he was vice president of the company and lived in Bloomington. The last to die was Ernest Reuter, another German native. He was 79 years old and the president of the Bloomington Packing Company at the time of his death in 1969.
Less than a decade later, on May 15, 1978, the Indianapolis News announced that the Bloomington Packing Company had closed its doors for good after 56 years of business. The news came from Larry Baldwin, the firm’s spokesman who blamed the rising cost of business and government regulation for the decision.