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Henry Saglio, 92; Created Meatier, Cheaper Chicken

December 27, 2003|From a Times Staff Writer

Henry Saglio, who transformed the poultry industry by breeding a white-feathered chicken that was heavy with meat, has died. He was 92.

Saglio died Dec. 13 of cardiac arrest in Glastonbury, Conn., his family said.

As a boy, Saglio suffered from severe dyslexia and dropped out of school in the eighth grade. He started breeding chickens at age 14 on his parents' farm in Glastonbury. He said he disliked working in the sun and wanted work he could do indoors.

The year was 1926, and soon the country would be in the Depression, during which the idea of "a chicken in every pot" was a tantalizing and far-from-attainable goal. The red-and-gray feathered birds then on the market were expensive and contained little meat.

In 1937, Saglio was asked by a meat processor if he could breed a chicken with white feathers because the red feathers of the chickens then available were staining the meat during kosher processing.

Paul Aho, a poultry economist who was interviewed on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" after Saglio's death, said Saglio bred a white broiler by crossing a White Rock with a Cornish hen.

"It was taking thousands of birds and choosing the ones that grew the fastest, repeat, repeat, repeat," Aho told NPR's Robert Siegel. "When you do it with many thousands of birds and select only the fastest-growing, the biggest, plumpest birds, you can make progress fairly quickly."

The Arbor Acres White Plymouth Rock breed that Saglio created did not become an immediate success, but it gained popularity after it won second place in the A&P's "Chicken of Tomorrow" competition in 1948.

Saglio's Arbor Acres began supplying Campbell Soups, and then most of the country, with commercial chickens. It was a leader in the industry for four decades and had operations around the world.

"I've dedicated my life to making chickens affordable to poor people," Saglio told Associated Press in 1987. "And that's what I did. Everybody's eating chicken now."

In the 1960s, Arbor Acres was sold to International Basic Economy Corp., which was launched by Nelson A. Rockefeller to promote economic activity in foreign countries.

Saglio and his son, Robert, later started Avian Farms International, a broiler and roaster breeding business. At the age of 87, the elder Saglio also founded Pureline Genetics after concerns were raised about chickens bred with antibiotics.

In 1977, Saglio was inducted into the American Poultry Historical Society Hall of Fame, which cited him as "the individual most responsible for the direction taken by the broiler industry."

In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, a brother, a sister and five grandchildren.

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