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.
“Taking in textile, coal, oil, lumber and appliance-manufacturing towns, Mr. Green’s survey is a useful one…. [T]he company towns overseen by Milton Hershey, Francis Cabot Lowell and even Charlie Cannon were communities enlivened by quirks and passions and idiosyncratic visions. Edens? Hardly. But they had soul, and you can neither buy nor sell that at the company store.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“[Green] offers a completely fascinating look at how American business titans — motivated by a combination of practicality, greed, and philanthropy — have established company towns.... Green explores utopian ideals gone awry and the changes in labor-management tensions across geography, time, and increasing globalization, and offers cogent insight on the need to balance divergent interests.” (Booklist)
“[An] engaging book…. [It] provides a valuable perspective on a well-worn history, detailing the heinous, lofty, and occasionally absurd ways companies have tried to shape their workers’ lives beyond factory walls.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The clash between the ideal of political freedom and the reality of extreme economic dependence on corporations is nowhere more stark than in the history of the American company town. From the now-rusted industrial cities on the hills to today’s Google server farms in the forests, Hardy Green captures the conundrum between the public good and private power in his elegant, insightful, and potent book.” (Greg Grandin, author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City)
“The company town had a unique role in American society. Hardy Green takes us into forgotten corners of our history and makes us glad the days of the company town are over. As entertaining as it is edifying.” (Marc Levinson, author of The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger)
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Living In 'The Company Town'
- Joshua Kim
Cotton Mills of Lowell, MA to Google in Oregon