Building the Workingman's Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns

Building the Workingman's Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns

Building the Workingman's Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns

Building the Workingman's Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns

Synopsis

This innovative and absorbing book surveys a little known chapter in the story of American urbanism- the history of communities built and owned by single companies seeking to bring their workers' homes and place of employment together on a single site. By 1930 more than two million people lived in such towns, dotted across an industrial frontier which stretched from Lowell, Massachusetts, through Torrance, California to Norris, Tennessee. Margaret Crawford focuses on the transformation of company town construction from the vernacular settlements of the late eighteenth century to the professional designs of architects and planners one hundred and fifty years later. Eschewing a static architectural approach which reads politics, history, and economics through the appearance of buildings, Crawford portrays the successive forms of company towns as the product of a dynamic process, shaped by industrial transformation, class struggle, and reformers' efforts to control and direct these forces.

Excerpt

This book is a study of the design of American company towns. Spanning the 150-year evolution of the company town as a distinctive urban form, it focuses on the transformation of company town planning from a vernacular building activity to a professional design task, undertaken by architects, landscape architects, and city planners. This culminated in the years 1913-25, when the "new" company town flourished. This book is the first history of the "new" company town, but in order to explain fully the shift between these two essentially different eras, it is necessary to retell the earlier history of the company town, reframed within a comprehensive and critical framework. The result is a new interpretation of the American company town. Although focusing specifically on the physical form of the company towns, this book breaks new ground by locating design within the constraints set by social and economic determinants. This portrays the built environment of the company town not as a static physical object, but as the product of a dynamic process, shaped by industrial transformation, class struggle, and reformers' efforts to control and direct these forces. First, any history of the company town must answer a basic question: What is a company town? The Encyclopedia of Social Sciences' definition serves the purposes of this book: "a community inhabited chiefly by the employees of a single company or group of companies which also owns a substantial part of the real estate and houses." This excludes other common uses of the term to describe locales with a dominant "industry," such as Detroit or Washington DC, or a dominant business enterprise. It also eliminates other types of industrial communities that are often confused with company towns -- industrial towns like Homestead, Pennsylvania, that depended on a single employer, but were developed by private interests; experimental and communitarian settlements, such as New Harmony, Indiana, Amana, Iowa, and Oneida, New York, that were economically based on industry or agriculture, but were communally owned; and housing projects or suburbs intended for industrial workers but developed separately from industrial facilities.

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