Company Towns in the Americas: Landscape, Power, and Working-Class Communities

By Oliver J. Dinius; Angela Vergara | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
The Making of a
Federal Company Town
Sunflower Village, Kansas

CHRISTOPHER W. POST

Company towns in the United States in the twentieth century possessed the same fundamental purpose as others throughout the Americas: to keep workers near their jobs so as to maximize labor-cost effectiveness. As with company towns elsewhere, they exhibited tight mechanisms of social control and provided only limited opportunities for employees to improve their conditions. However, unlike their pan-American cousins, company towns in the United States were predominantly private, with little to no government oversight or even church paternalism. This pattern changed, however, with the Great Depression and World War II. A different company town landscape emerged because of the growing importance of public investment in company towns. They differed from their corporate brethren in layout, openness, politics, and social opportunities. They were, indeed, democratized company towns.

This essay complements Andrew Herod’s discussion, in chapter 1, of landscape and space by elaborating on the geographic conceptualization of place. Second, it summarizes the landscape conditions of American private company towns, primarily those of the Appalachian and western United States. Third, it introduces the idea of the federal company town that resulted from growing government involvement in the American economy from the 1930s through the 1940s. This started with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal, which led to increased defense industry mobilization during the Second World War. Finally, despite the harshness of the company town landscape in the United States—both private and public—worker residents still developed profound attachments to their communities; they turned the spaces of external

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