The pig dates back 40 million years to fossils which indicate that wild pig-like animals roamed forests and swamps in Europe and Asia. By 4900 B.C. pigs were domesticated in China, and were being raised in Europe by 1500 B.C. On the insistence of Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus took eight pigs on his voyage to Cuba in 1493. But it is Hernando de Soto who could be dubbed “the father of the American pork industry.” He landed with America’s first 13 pigs at Tampa Bay, Florida in 1539.
Native Americans reportedly became very fond of the taste of pork, resulting in some of the worst attacks on the de Soto expedition. By the time of de Soto’s death three years later, his pig herd had grown to 700 head, not including the ones his troops had consumed, those that ran away and became wild pigs (and the ancestors of today’s feral pigs or razorbacks), and those given to the Native Americans to keep the peace. The pork industry in America had begun.
Pig production spread throughout the new colonies. Hernando Cortez introduced hogs to New Mexico in 1600, and Sir Walter Raleigh brought sows to Jamestown Colony in 1607. Semi-wild pigs conducted such rampages in New York colonists’ grain fields that every owned pig 14 inches high had to have a ring in its nose. On Manhattan Island, a long solid wall was constructed on the northern edge of the colony to control roaming herds of pigs. This area is now known as Wall Street.
The pig population of Pennsylvania colony numbered in the thousands by 1660. As the seventeenth century closed, the typical farmer owned four or five pigs, supplying salt pork and bacon for his table with surpluses sold as barreled pork. Finishing pigs on Native Americans’ corn became a common practice in Pennsylvania. After the Revolutionary war, pioneers began heading west and they took their indispensable pigs with them. A wooden crate filled with young pigs was often hung from the axles of prairie schooners. As western herds grew, the need for pork processing facilities became apparent. packing plants began to spring up in major cities. Pigs were first commercially slaughtered in Cincinnati, which became known as Porkopolis. More pork was packed there than any other place in the Midwest.