The Story of Reo Joe: Work, Kin, and Community in Autotown, U.S.A.

The Story of Reo Joe: Work, Kin, and Community in Autotown, U.S.A.

The Story of Reo Joe: Work, Kin, and Community in Autotown, U.S.A.

The Story of Reo Joe: Work, Kin, and Community in Autotown, U.S.A.

Synopsis

The Reo Motor Car Company operated in Lansing, Michigan, for seventy years, and encouraged its thousands of workers to think of themselves as part of a factory family. Reo workers, most typically white, rural, native-born Protestant men, were dubbed Reo Joes. These ordinary fellows had ordinary aspirations: job security, decent working conditions, and sufficient pay to support a family. They treasured leisure time for family activities (many sponsored by the company), hunting, and their fraternal organizations. Even after joining a union, Reo Joes remained loyal to the company and proud of the community built around it. Lisa M. Fine tells the Reo story from the workers' perspective on the vast social, economic, and political changes that took place in the first three quarters of the twentieth century. Lisa Fine explores their understanding of the city where they lived, the industry that employed them, and the ideas about work, manhood, race, and family that shaped their identities.The Story of Reo Joeis, then, a book about historical memory; it challenges us to reconsider what we think we know about corporate welfare, unionization, de-industrialization, and working-class leisure. Author note:Lisa M. Fineis Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University. She is the author of Souls of the Skyscraper: Female Clerical Workers in Chicago, 1870-1930(Temple), and coeditor, with Mary Anderson, Kathleen Geissler, and Joyce Ladenson, of Doing Feminism: Teaching and Research in the Academy.

Excerpt

Between 1904 and 1975, on a now-polluted site on the south side of Lansing, Michigan, one could find a complex of offices and factories committed to the manufacture of motor vehicles. Over the years the names and faces of the workers, managers, and owners changed many times, but one symbol provided continuity for the events that occurred at this place: the name Reo, an acronym for the founder of the company. Ransom E. Olds, the famous automobile pioneer and inventor, began the Reo Motor Car Company after he lost his first corporate venture, Oldsmobile. If you lived in Lansing during these years and someone told you she worked at the “Reo,” not only would you know exactly what this meant, you would associate the name with a place of pride.

During its first two decades of operation as a producer of automobiles and trucks, Reo and its community prospered; consumers would have found it hard to predict which of the two prosperous Lansing-based companies, Reo or Oldsmobile, would last 100 years. (Nineteen-ninety-eight saw the 100th anniversary of Oldsmobile, although the Oldsmobile line was discontinued in 2001, even as gm builds new assembly plants in Lansing.) On the eve of the Great Depression, Reo produced very popular cars and trucks, employed more than five thousand workers, and was an important and—in its technological . . .

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