Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest

By Scofield, Twilo | Western Folklore, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest


Scofield, Twilo, Western Folklore


Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest. By Linda Carlson. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003. Pp. viii + 286, acknowledgments, map, photographs, illustrations, gazetteer, notes, bibliography, index. $22.50 paper)

The village of Foster, Oregon, where I spent my childhood prior to World War II, was not exactly a company town, but it was a one-industry town, home to three large logging companies and many gyppo (small independent) outfits. In all our activities, from the workaday to the celebratory, we lived and breathed timber. Our annual festival featured a Timber Queen and her court, parades displaying the latest in trucks and heavy machinery, and contests of male occupational skill-bucking, axe-throwing, burling, tree-topping. Starting in the late 1930s, demand for lumber led to a significant influx of workers from the outside. Tiny Foster became a boomtown, with speculators hurriedly throwing up housing developments to accommodate the newcomers, almost like a company town. So the present volume, with its accounts of teeming company towns in the Pacific Northwest, evoked strong memories for me.

For nearly a century, from the mid-1800s through the period shortly after World War II, company towns (in which residents were dependent on a single firm or owner for their livelihoods and for the maintenance of their homes, stores, schools, churches, and hospitals) were a central feature of Pacific Northwest industry-lumbering, mining, and fishery. Some of these towns were founded purely as a business venture-an entrepreneur's move to buy access to a natural resource and exploit it for profit. Other towns were built as an anti-union measure by large companies eager to avoid labor unrest like that caused by the I.W.W. or "Wobblies" during the early 1900's. Some of these anti-union towns offered workers material attractions such as good inexpensive housing and free schooling. (They also proffered a "union" of their own devising-the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen.) Others were geared explicitly to shut unions out, requiring employees to sign leases that prohibited them from holding union meetings in their homes, guaranteeing immediate eviction of striking workers, and forcing businesses to agree not to serve strikers. Though all company towns were paternalistic to some degree, a few owners ran their towns as though playing God. …

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