This impressive life-size figure appears to have been produced for the1893-1894 Chicago World's Fair Exposition. A trade card handed out at the exposition shows visitors to the Swift and Company display booth in the Agricultural Building. A life-size figure of a steer was perched majestically on a pedestal, towering above a display of an ice-cooled railroad car advertising the Swift Refrigeration Line.
A Molded Copper figure of a leaping stag stamped W.H. Mullins/Salem, OH was commissioned for the Deere & Company to be placed on the roof of the Denver Branch House in Denver, Colorado. Recently sold at Christie's (January 20-21, 2005, lot 380), the leaping stag is closely related to the present lot. Both share similarities in terms of their enormous size, finely executed molded details and construction technique. Each of these figures were built using a cast iron armature below sheets of stamped copper that are molded together. A close examination of the Muller catalogues from this period do not show a model of a steer, however it is likely that the present lot was a unique commission that would have been printed in the catalogue. It appears that the present lot is lacking its original base, which is where the W.H. Mullins stamp would have been placed.
In 1882, W.H. Mullins listed his business as "Bakewell and Mullins, Sheet Metal Statuary and Cornice Work". By 1890 Mullins had bought out his partner and changed the name of his company to "W.H. Mullins". In spite of being heavily in debt after the buy-out, Mullins' company flourished, producing high quality statuary and monuments in copper and zinc. Mullins' most celebrated commission was the18 foot tall Diana the Huntress weathervane which was designed by Augustus St. Gaudens in 1890. Diana's nudity was the subject of protests when she was placed at the top of the Moorish Tower of Madison Square Garden and St. Gaudens was pressured to add draperies to the figure, which he later removed. In 1893, she was placed over the dome of the Agricultural Building at the Chicago World's Fair, presumably because of Mullin's other commissioned statuary for the Exposition.
The Swift Meat Packing Company was founded by Gustavus Franklin Swift (1839-1903) in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1855, with a $20 loan from his father to purchase his first heifer, Swift quickly built an empire that revolutionized the global food industry. In 1881, Swift invented the first practical ice-cooled railroad car. This development put an end to the traditional practice of shipping live cattle, a costly and inhumane practice that often involved the deterioration or death of the livestock. Swift was intolerant of inefficiency, and decided to only process his livestock in Chicago for shipment to the East coast. One of Swift's most important innovations was the process of disassembling livestock carcasses on a conveyor belt. The model was replicated in reverse by automobile pioneer Henry Ford in the development of the automobile industry. Swift is credited not only with revolutionizing the American food industry in the late 19th century, but for the creation of efficient models of manufacturing that are implemented worldwide today.