Jesse Jewell is widely credited with making Gainesville the “poultry capital of the world.” He pioneered vertical integration—the combining of all phases of the business, such as raw materials, processing, and distribution, within a single company—in the Georgia poultry industry. At the helm of J. D. Jewell, Incorporated, for more than twenty years, Jewell was a key national leader of the poultry industry. His enterprising and genial personality made him a popular figure throughout north Georgia.
One of five children, Jesse Dickson Jewell was born in Gainesville on March 13, 1902. His mother, Mary Tallulah Dickson, worked as an art teacher at Brenau College in Gainesville. Jewell’s father, Edgar Herman Jewell, owned a feed, seed, and fertilizer business. He died when Jewell was only seven years old. After graduating from Gainesville High School, Jewell studied civil engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Alabama. In 1922 he began working in the family feed business, along with his mother and stepfather, Leonard Loudermilk. In 1928 Jewell married Anna Louise Dorough, and the couple settled down in Gainesville. They had three daughters.
When his stepfather died in 1930, Jewell began managing the family business. As the Great Depression drained the company’s resources, 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 (1941-45) 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.
In the early 1950s a majority of workers at J. D. Jewell voted to unionize under Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen. However, violent attacks on union representatives by a mob, which reportedly included members of J. D. Jewell management, effectively ended the effort.
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.
In the early 1960s Jewell sold his company to a group of investors. It went bankrupt in 1972, though Jewell himself never did. With his poultry fortune he established a scholarship fund at Brenau College, where he also endowed a new building for biology and home economics. Jewell suffered a stroke in 1962 and died, after an extended illness, on January 16, 1975.