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Morrell, John H.
(March 13, 1864–December 4, 1921)

–president of John Morrell and Company (1915-1921), a major meatpacking firm founded in Bradford, England, which had its American headquarters in Ottumwa, Iowa, from 1877 to 1955—succeeded his cousin, Thomas Dove Foster, as president. John's father, George Morrell, was grandson of the company's founder, George Morrell, and son of the business's namesake, John Morrell. Along with Thomas Dove Foster, John H. Morrell can be credited with developing Morrell's American operations and, like his cousin, contributing centrally to Ottumwa's business, civic, and philanthropic life.

    John H. Morrell was born in 1864 in Kilkenny, Ireland, where his father, George, managed the Morrell wholesale food provision branch located there. At age 16, he began working in the Liverpool office of John Morrell and Company, Ltd., where its headquarters were located beginning in 1860. After his father, George, went to Chicago to manage Morrell's packing plant there, John H. joined him as an assistant in 1883. John's two brothers, Alfred and George F., also served with the company: Alfred served for a time in Ottumwa before returning to England, and George F. eventually became managing director of John Morrell and Company, Ltd., based in Liverpool.

    After the Chicago plant closed in 1888, John H. Morrell went to the Ottumwa plant. From 1889 to 1915 he was the company's assistant general manager before becoming Morrell's president. He was appointed to the Morrell board of directors in 1896. When the Yorkshire Creamery Company started in 1903 as the organization that would handle its creamery operations, centered initially in Bloomfield, Iowa, John H. Morrell was part of its board of directors as well. Before the English and American branches of Morrell formally separated in 1915, the Kittery Realty Company, a holding company, was established in 1909 to purchase the American properties owned by John Morrell and Company, Ltd. John H. Morrell was made vice president and treasurer of that company.

    Because of long-standing heart problems, John H. Morrell resigned as an active member of Morrell's management in 1912, but he continued as a nonactive member. He maintained an office in his home in Ottumwa and visited the plant as often as possible. Nevertheless, after Thomas Dove Foster's death in July 1915, John H. Morrell agreed to assume the company's presidency. In that same year, he served as president of the Ottumwa Chamber of Commerce. He was also appointed to the State Council of Defense during World War I.

    During John H. Morrell's tenure as president, the most notable development in the company's history was the growth of its export business during World War I. Because Morrell was founded in England and its American branch, a separate entity beginning in 1915, had long been involved in shipping pork products, especially bacon, to England, that growth was a continuation of earlier trends. Morrell had been the largest American exporter of meat products to England before the war, and the war and immediate postwar years saw continued growth. In addition, Morrell also exported meat products and lard to France, Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, and Italy during the war. Morrell and other meatpackers faced increasing federal government scrutiny, especially by the Federal Trade Commission, during and immediately after the war due to their profits. In the midst of those investigations, which resulted in the passage of the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1922, John H. Morrell died at age 57 in Ottumwa.
Sources The Morrell Meat Packing Company Collection, housed in Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, contains materials on John H. Morrell. See also R. Ames Montgomery, Thomas D. Foster: A Biography (1930); Lawrence Oakley Cheever, The House of Morrell (1948); and Wilson J. Warren, Struggling with "Iowa's Pride": Labor Relations, Unionism, and Politics in the Rural Midwest since 1877 (2000).
Contributor: Wilson J. Warren