David Lowe, a frequent contributor to these pages, has come across an ebullient celebration of America’s littleknown part in bulwarking the British Empire.
In the 1870’s and 1880’s Chicago’s meat-packers finally perfected methods of canning beef and thereby opened up vast new markets abroad. Among their best customers were European governments with armies and navies in tropical countries. England, in particular, was a steady and enthusiastic purchaser of the new product. To supply the 1884 expedition sent to crush a self-proclaimed prophet called the Mahdi, who was leading a revolt against British rule in the Sudan, Her Majesty’s government ordered no less than 2,500,000 pounds of tinned provisions. (The campaign is remembered now chiefly because of the death of General “Chinese” Gordon at Khartoum.) This dependence of beef-loving England upon American stockyards inspired an anonymous Chicago rhymester to celebrate the fact in verse. “P.D.A.” is, of course, Philip Danforth Armour; “W.E.G.” is the British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone; and the “Mackay-Bennett line” refers to the Commercial Cable Company organized in 1883 by John William Mackay and James Gordon Bennett.