Company town: The very phrase sounds un-American. Yet company towns are the essence of America. Hershey bars, Corning glassware, Kohler bathroom fixtures, Maytag washers, Spam... each is the signature product of a company town in which one business, for better or worse, exercises a grip over the population.
In The Company Town, Hardy Green, who has covered American business for over a decade, offers a compelling analysis of the emergence of these communities and their role in shaping the American economy, beginning in the country's earliest years.
From the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, to the R&D labs of Corning, New York; from the coal mines of Ludlow, Colorado, to corporate campuses of todays major tech companies, America has been uniquely open to the development of the single-company community. But rather than adhering to a uniform blueprint, American company towns represent two very different strands of capitalism. One is socially benign - a paternalistic, utopian ideal that fosters the development of schools, hospitals, parks, and desirable housing for its workers. The other, Exploitationville, focuses only on profits, at the expense of employees well-being.
Adeptly distinguishing between these two models, Green offers rich stories about town-builders and workers. He vividly describes the origins of Americas company towns, the living and working conditions that characterize them, and the violent, sometimes fatal, labor confrontations that have punctuated their existence. And he chronicles the surprising transformation underway in many such communities today.
With fascinating profiles of American moguls, The Company Town is a sweeping tale of how the American economy has grown and changed, and how these urban centers have reflected the best and worst of American capitalism.
I live in a company town. Wouldn't have it any other way. Hardy Green misses the college town in his tour of the history and workings of the company town, an oversight in an otherwise excellent book.
Understanding the company town is an important part of making sense of how employment and living standards have evolved in the U.S. since the Industrial Revolution. The original company town was located in Lowell Massachusetts, which in the early 19th century became America's largest textile manufacturer. Lowell set the model, in which the company owns all the land and building around the factory (or mine), and where owners and management occupy roles usually reserved for government.
From the earliest days in Lowell, to the failed company towns of Gary, Indiana (steel) and Newton, Iowa (Maytag), to the near utopias of Hershey, Pennsylvania or Corning, New York, the company town loomed large in our collective economic imagination.
In the past, images of the "company town" might have included the Appalachian mining towns, places that Hardy labels "exploitationville's". Today, we are more likely to think of the new corporate campuses such as the Googleplex, utopias in the mold of Hershey PA in which all worker needs are met so as to best keep everyone coding (or making chocolate)..
If you live in a college town, you will find the stories of The Company Town perhaps a little too familiar. If you are interested in economic history (or maybe teach something that touches on the corporation, the worker, and the changing economic basis of private life), this would be a good book to add to your library.
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Hardy Green in "The Company Town" has brought together an era in US industrial history which has long been forgotten. Company owned towns associated with such as Hershey, Pullman, U.S. Steel, Corning, Kaiser are all here. The history of their origin, intent, and ultimate outcomes are most informative. This is a story of utopian ideals, labor/management conflict, economics and the industrialization of the country. An entire book could have been written about each company town, but Green has aptly chosen to compile the basic stories here. What emerges is a macro perspective of the era both informative and entertaining. Well written and expertly ready by L J Ganser.
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