Jesse Jewell (1902-1975) started what was to become Georgia’s largest agricultural crop- poultry. The now $1,000,000,000 a year industry has given Gainesville the title “Poultry Capital of the World.”
Jewell pioneered vertical integration—the combining of all phases of the business, such as raw materials, processing, and distribution, within a single company—in the poultry industry. At the helm of J. D. Jewell, Inc. for more than twenty years, Jewell was a key national leader of the poultry industry.
Jewell’s father, Edgar Herman Jewell, owned a feed, seed, and fertilizer business. He died when Jewell was only seven years old. In 1922 young Jesse began working in the family feed business, along with his mother and stepfather, Leonard Loudermilk.
When his stepfather died in 1930, Jewell began managing the family business. As the Great Depression drained the company’s receipts, he tried a new approach to boost feed sales. He bought baby chicks and supplied them, along with chicken feed, on credit to cash-poor farmers. Once the chicks were grown, Jewell bought them back at a price that covered his feed costs and also guaranteed the farmers a profit. More and more Hall County farmers began to contract to grow chickens for Jewell.
By the late 1930s Jewell began adding the elements that would make J. D. Jewell the largest integrated chicken producer in the world. The first step, in 1940, was to open his own hatchery. Next came a processing plant in 1941. The booming World War II economy gave a lift to the fledgling Jewell enterprise. By 1954 Jewell added the final touches—his own feed mill and rendering plant. This vertically integrated corporation set the standard for poultry processors everywhere, as did Jewell’s trademark frozen chicken. Jewell’s hiring policies were also innovative: his processing plant was among the first factories in Gainesville to hire black workers.
Employees of Swift and Company Poultry, a competitor to J. D. Jewell, gathered in December of 1953 or 1954 for a Christmas party. Swift was one of the many poultry processing plants which employed African Americans in Gainesville.
Jewell was a founder and the first president of the National Broiler Council, the president of the Southeastern Poultry and Egg Association, and a U.S. delegate to the 1951 World Poultry Congress. He also gained the presidency of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which he led during the 1950s.