Company town

Company town

A company town is a town or city in which much or all real estate, buildings (both residential and commercial), utilities, hospitals, small businesses such as grocery stores and gas stations, and other necessities or luxuries of life within its borders are owned by a single company. The term is used in the US and UK to refer to a town or city where loyalty to the company that is perceived to be responsible for its success is expected and that company is, or was, a major employer in the area.



Traditional settings for company towns were where extractive industriescoal, metal mines, lumber — had established a monopoly franchise. Dam sites and war-industry camps founded other company towns. Since company stores tend to have a monopoly in company towns, it was not uncommon for truck systems to emerge in isolated company towns.

Typically, a company town will be isolated from neighbors and centered (figuratively, if not literally) around a large production factory such as a lumber or steel mill or an automobile plant; and the citizens of the town will either work in the factory, work in one of the smaller businesses, or be a family member of someone who does. The company may also operate parks, host cultural events such as concerts, and so on. If the owning company cuts back or goes out of business, the economic effect on the company town is devastating, and often fatal.

Company towns sometimes become regular public cities and towns as they grow. Other times, a town may not officially be a company town, but it may be a town where the majority of citizens are employed by a single company, thus creating a similar situation to a company town (especially in regard to the town's economy).

United States

At their peak there were more than 2,500 company towns, housing 3% of the US population.[1][2]

One of the first company towns in the United States was Pullman, Chicago, developed in the 1880s just outside the Chicago city limits. The town, entirely company-owned, provided housing, markets, a library, churches and entertainment for the 6,000 company employees and an equal number of dependents. Employees were required to live in Pullman, despite the fact that cheaper rentals could be found in nearby communities. In 1898 the Illinois Supreme Court required Pullman to dissolve their ownership of the town.

Another famous company town was McDonald, Ohio, which was created by the Carnegie Steel Company to house and serve the needs of its employees in the Youngstown, Ohio area.

In the present day United States, it is relatively rare for any place in which a single company owns all the property to be granted status as an incorporated municipality. Rather, companies will normally prefer their wholly owned communities to remain unincorporated as this permits administration of the community to be carried out by appointed company officers rather than elected officials. However, there are incorporated municipalities that are heavily dependent upon a single industry or organization and may be loosely considered a "company town", even though the company does not technically own the town.

A different type of company town has appeared in the U.S. since the 1960s, where real estate companies started developing uninhabited tracts of unincorporated lands into huge master-planned communities. These can be called company towns since they were not developed as part of a city, but completely on their own. Often these towns then grow into full fledged cities and then become incorporated, such as Irvine, California.

The adjacent cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, near Orlando, Florida in the Reedy Creek Improvement District, are most widely known as the location of Walt Disney World Resort. Being company towns, they are entirely owned by Disney-related companies. A few token persons reside on the site; all are either employees of Disney or their immediate family members.


Paternalism, a subtle form of social engineering, refers to the control of workers by their employers who sought to force middle-class ideals upon their working-class employees. Similarly to some of today’s businessmen who concern themselves with environmental best practice, paternalism was considered by many nineteenth century businessmen as a moral responsibility, or often a religious obligation, which would advance society whilst furthering their own business interests. Accordingly, the company town offered a unique opportunity to achieve such ends.

Although many prominent examples of company towns portray their founders as "capitalists with a conscience", for example George Cadbury's Bourneville, if viewed cynically the company town was often an economically viable ploy to attract and retain workers. Additionally, for-profit shops within company towns were usually owned by the company which were unavoidable to its isolated workers thus resulting in a monopoly for the owners.[3]

Although economically successful, company towns sometimes failed politically due to a lack of elected officials and municipally owned services.[4] Accordingly, workers often had no say in local affairs and therefore felt dictated to. Ultimately, this political climate caused resentment amongst workers and resulted in many residents eventually losing long-term affection for their towns; such was the case at Pullman.

The Pullman lesson

Pullman, Chicago was a model company town founded by the Pullman Palace Car Company in the 1880s. The town operated successfully until the economic panic of 1893 when demands for the company’s products declined and employee wages had to be lowered accordingly. Despite this the company refused to lower rents in the town or the price of goods at its shops, thus resulting in the Pullman Strike of 1894.[5] A national commission formed to investigate the causes of the strikes found that Pullman’s paternalism partly to blame and labelled it ‘un-American’.[6]

However, government observers maintained that Pullman’s principles were accurate, in that he provided his employees with a quality of life otherwise unattainable to them, but recognised that his excessive paternalism was inappropriate for a large-scale corporate economy and thus caused the town’s downfall. Accordingly, government observers and social reformers alike saw the need for a balance between control and well-designed towns concluding that a model company town would only succeed if independent professionals, acting as a buffer between employers and employees, took a role in conception, planning, and management of these towns.[7]

Thus the Pullman Strike did not kill the concept of a company town but rather initiated a new chapter in their existence. Over the next thirty years the old model of paternalism was abandoned in favour of new professionally designed company towns with architects, landscape architects, and planners translating “new concepts of industrial relations and social welfare into new physical forms”.[8] This suited capitalists of the day who were obviously keen to avoid the experiences of Pullman. The first real example of this occurred at Indian Hill-North Village, Massachusetts in 1915.[9]

Model company towns

During the late nineteenth century, model company towns materialised as enlightened industrialists recognised that many poor workers were living in appalling conditions.[10] These industrialists wished to combat the unsanitary and congested conditions common to working class districts in order to create better living conditions for workers.[11] Model company towns such as Port Sunlight (1888) and Bournville (1895) were influential in regards to their building and planning innovation.[12] The ideas generated from these model towns are regarded as having a significant influence on the Garden City movement.[13]

The model company town is concerned with creating a productive and prosperous company.[14] Enlightened industrialists believed this could be achieved by providing a healthier residential environment for their employees.[15] Planning a model company town involved the fusion of new notions of house design and layout.[16] The paternalism of the enlightened industrialist was exhibited in his desire to provide an environment for his employees that was aesthetically appealing and which included well-designed residences, parks, schools, libraries and meeting halls.[17] The industrialist also wished to contribute to his workers’ wellbeing by providing social programs such as sporting events and functions.[18] This however, highlights the power and immense control possessed by the company owner who could shape the lifestyle and activities of his employees to serve his own interests and those of the company.[19]

The creation of model company towns was particularly evident in Britain during the latter half of the nineteenth century with the creation of Saltaire, Bournville, Port Sunlight, Creswell and New Earswick, and coincided with the housing reform movement which emphasised the improvement of housing for the working class.[20] These model towns contrasted with the overcrowded conditions in British working class districts which were often characterised by congested housing, unsanitary conditions, poor provision of open space and facilities.[21] Model company towns promoted the idea of orderly, planned town development as well as the notion of planning for the needs of the community in order to provide healthier living conditions.[22]

Model company towns in Britain

Model company towns around the mid-nineteenth century such as Copley (1849) near Halifax, and Saltaire (1853) close to Bradford were characterised by improved dwellings for workers which contrasted with working-class housing in other industrial villages and cities.[23] These model company towns prompted the creation of others such as Port Sunlight, Bourneville and Creswell within an environment of reform.[24]

Port Sunlight (1888) in Cheshire, was established by William Hesketh Lever (later Lord Leverhulme) of Lever Brothers – a soap and tallow manufacturer.[25] The earlier layout of this model company town was planned to suit the undulating topography of the site.[26] Port Sunlight catered for the Lever Brothers employees through the provision of improved housing (cottages of varying designs and materials) and gardens, as well as social and community facilities including an auditorium, school, tennis courts and bowling greens.[27] Port Sunlight combined the use of formal and informal planning elements such as straight streets close to the town centre and curved streets in the residential areas.[28] This combination of the formal and informal represented a new feature of British town planning.[29]

Bournville (1895) near Birmingham, was established by the Cadbury brothers, George and Richard.[30] George and Richard Cadbury chose to transfer the Cadbury factory to this new site in order to provide their employees with improved living conditions and a country environment that they could enjoy - a far cry from the busy, smoky city centre of Birmingham.[31] The firm provided education in the form of a compulsory academic course and workers were given the opportunity to complete commercial or technical training.[32] Cadburys also encouraged their workers to get involved in the social life of Bournville through the provision of sports facilities, athletic and cultural clubs, as well as social events such as summer parties.[33] George Cadbury, a Quaker, preached Christian values such as respectability, thrift and sobriety and sought to unify the Bournville community through rituals such as gift giving between employer and employee.[34] The firm also established work councils such as the Women’s Works Council and supported trade unions.[35]

Bournville represented the union of industry and nature as the company town boasted the attractiveness of the countryside and low-density development characterised by well-built and visually appealing dwellings.[36] Unlike Port Sunlight, Bournville catered for a mixed community where residences were not restricted to the workforce only.[37] Bournville illustrated how, towards the end of the nineteenth century, low-density development was being emphasised along with the provision of open air, space and sunlight.[38] Bournville’s gardens, parks, tree-lined streets, its sense of spaciousness and country setting enhanced its aesthetic appeal and demonstrated George Cadbury’s endeavour to provide workers with a healthy, beautiful and well-ventilated environment.[39]

The Bolsover Company developed two exemplary mining communities in Derbyshire during the late nineteenth century, Bolsover (1891) and Creswell (1896).[40] The Bolsover Company aimed to provide improved living conditions for the miners and their families in these model industrial villages.[41] The houses at Creswell were built in concentric circles, and within these circles was large open parkland and a bandstand.[42] Not only did the Bolsover Company aim to provide better housing, but they also wished to improve workers’ moral fibre, believing that the provision of facilities and the promotion of workers’ welfare would discourage drunkenness, gambling and bad language.[43] The Bolsover Company provided facilities deemed beneficial for employees at both villages including clubhouses, bowling greens, cooperative society stores, cricket pitches and schools.[44] During the early years of these model industrial villages, the Bolsover Company organised various events intended to enhance community life such as flower shows, lectures, sporting events, concerts, teas and dances.[45]

The decline of American company towns

By the 1920s the need for company towns had declined significantly due to increased national affluence. Despite income inequalities and a relatively low standard of living conditions amongst factory labourers, the prosperity of the 1920s saw workers’ material well-being improve significantly. A strong post-war American economy meant instalment buying was accessible to low-wage earners who could now purchase previously unattainable goods like automobiles and radios. Moreover, workers were no longer dependent on employers for healthcare and education.

By the 1920s the widespread nature of the automobile meant workers no longer needed to live near their work places and now had access to more employment opportunities. A combination of the freedom that came with private transport and the mass communication of radio saw the isolation of company towns lessen and the social basis of the company town become less necessary.

Furthermore, the accessibility of the working class to private transport also marked a step of equality as they had previously only been accessible to the wealthy. As access to surrounding municipalities increased, residents of company towns gained access to an increasing amount of government-funded public resources such as schools, libraries, and parks. Accordingly, there was no longer a need for the amenities of company towns which, prior to welfare capitalism, had previously been unattainable to the working class.[46]

This new found freedom saw a change in the mindset of workers who began to look on welfare capitalism as demeaning rather than an incentive. Accordingly, many employees began to request additional pay in lieu of welfare programs. This was well received by some employers as the idea of ‘laissez-faire’ individualism, which promoted entrepreneurial virtues of hard-work being rewarded rather than direct charity, began to shape new-age paternalism.[47]

Modernisation and the increase in material well-being had also lessened the perceived need for paternalism and moral reform. Accordingly, the economic downturn of the early 1930s saw some businesses do away with employee welfare schemes to reduce costs. However, the Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal dealt the final blow to end American company towns by raising minimum wages, encouraging industrial self-governance, and pushing for the owners of company towns to “consider the question of plans for eventual employee ownership of homes”.[48] To a lesser extent the New Deal also reduced the need for employee housing by transforming housing finance to a lower-interest, lower-deposit system making home ownership more accessible to the working class.

See also


  1. ^ "Monuments to power". The Economist. Retrieved 2010-10-19. "At their height there were more than 2,500 such towns housing 3% of the population." 
  2. ^ Green, Hardy (2010). The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy. Basic Books. ISBN 0465018262. 
  3. ^ Crawford, M. 1995. ‘Building the Workingman’s Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns.’ Verso. London.
  4. ^ Garner, J. 1992. The Company Town: Architecture and Society in the Early Industrial Age. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ Lukas, A. 1997. ‘Big Trouble.’ New York. Simon & Schuster.
  6. ^ Pearson, A. 2009. "Utopia Derailed". Archaeology. Volume 62 Number 1. Jan/Feb 2009.
  7. ^ Fogelsong, R. 1986. ‘Planning the Capitalist City’. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  8. ^ Crawford, M. 1995. ‘Building the Workingman’s Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns.’ Verso. London.pp45
  9. ^ Crawford, M. 1995. ‘Building the Workingman’s Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns.’ Verso. London.
  10. ^ Parsons, 1985, p.639
  11. ^ Garner, 1982, p.xi
  12. ^ Jackson, 1985
  13. ^ Jackson, 1985; Garner, 1992
  14. ^ Gaskell, 1979
  15. ^ Gaskell, 1979, p.440
  16. ^ Gaskell, 1979
  17. ^ Garner, 1992, p.4
  18. ^ Garner, 1992, p.4
  19. ^ Garner, 1982, p.xi
  20. ^ Cherry, 1979, p.51; Parsons, 1985
  21. ^ Gaskell, 1979; Cherry, 1979
  22. ^ Cherry, 1979
  23. ^ Garner, 1982, p.87
  24. ^ Garner, 1982
  25. ^ Jackson, 1985, p.47
  26. ^ Jackson, 1985; p.47
  27. ^ Cherry, 1979, p.314; Jackson, 1985
  28. ^ Hebblethwaite, 1987, p.155
  29. ^ Hebblethwaite, 1987, p.155
  30. ^ Dellheim, 1987
  31. ^ Dellheim, 1987, p.20
  32. ^ Dellheim, 1987, p.29
  33. ^ Dellheim, 1987, p.29
  34. ^ Dellheim, 1987, p.30
  35. ^ Dellheim, 1987, p.42
  36. ^ Dellheim, 1987, p.31; Cherry, 1979, p.314
  37. ^ Jackson, 1985, p.49
  38. ^ Cherry, 1979, p.317
  39. ^ Jackson, 1985, p.49
  40. ^ Gaskell, 1979
  41. ^ Gaskell, 1979
  42. ^ Gaskell, 1979, p.446
  43. ^ Gaskell, 1979
  44. ^ Gaskell, 1979, p.446
  45. ^ Gaskell, 1979, p.447
  46. ^ Crawford, M. 1995. ‘Building the Workingman’s Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns.’ Verso. London.
  47. ^ Crawford, M. 1995. ‘Building the Workingman’s Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns.’ Verso. London.
  48. ^ Crawford, M. 1995. ‘Building the Workingman’s Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns.’ Verso. London. pp 204

Further reading

  • Carlson, L. (2003). Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest, ISBN 0-295-98332-9 [1]
  • Crawford, M (1995). Building the Workingman's Paradise: The Design of American Company Towns. London & New York: Verso. ISBN 0-86091-695-2. 
  • Cherry, G.E. (1979). The town planning movement and the late Victorian city. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 4, 306-319.
  • Dellheim, C. (1987). The creation of company culture: Cadburys, 1861-1931. The American Historical Review, 92, 13-44.
  • Garner, J.S. (1982). The model company town. Massachusetts: The University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Garner, J.S. (1992). The company town: Architecture and society in the early industrial age. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
  • Gaskell, M. (1979). Model industrial villages in S. Yorkshire/N. Derbyshire and the early town planning movement. The Town Planning Review, 50, 437-458.
  • Hebblethwaite, R. (1987). The municipal housing programme in Sheffield before 1914. Architectural History, 30, 143-179.
  • Jackson, F. (1985). Sir Raymond Unwin: Architect, planner and visionary. London: A. Zwemmer Ltd.
  • Parsons, K.C. (1985). Review of the model company town: Urban design through private enterprise in nineteenth-century New England. The New England Quarterly, 58, 639-643.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • company town — noun : a community that is dependent on one firm for all or most of the necessary services or functions of town life (as employment, housing, stores, and government) * * * a town whose inhabitants are mainly dependent on one company for… …   Useful english dictionary

  • company town — /ˈkʌmpəni taʊn/ (say kumpuhnee town) noun 1. a town built by a company to house and provide amenities for its employees, usually in a remote country area. 2. Also, closed town. such a town in which the company has a monopoly on the supply of all… …   Australian English dictionary

  • company town — a town whose inhabitants are mainly dependent on one company for employment, housing, supplies, etc. [1930 35, Amer.] * * * …   Universalium

  • company town — A residential and commercial community opened by a company for public use and operated under color of state law. Illinois Migrant Council v. Campbell Soup Co., C.A.I11., 519 F.2d 391 Community exists primarily because of company; with major part… …   Black's law dictionary

  • company town — A residential and commercial community opened by a company for public use and operated under color of state law. Illinois Migrant Council v. Campbell Soup Co., C.A.I11., 519 F.2d 391 Community exists primarily because of company; with major part… …   Black's law dictionary

  • company town — noun Date: 1927 a community that is dependent on one firm for all or most of the necessary services or functions of town life (as employment, housing, and stores) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Town Hall Theatre — is in Centerville Ohio, Originally built in 1908 Town Hall Theatre use to be the city s Town Meeting Hall along as serving for many other things such as graduations etc. It served as government offices until 1985.Town Hall is transformedIn 1989… …   Wikipedia

  • town — n. 1) a boom; ghost ( deserted ); jerkwater (AE; colloq.), one horse, provincial, sleepy, small; market (BE) town (they live in a sleepy, little town) 2) a company town 3) smb. s hometown 4) a county town (BE; AE has county seat) 5) (misc.) to… …   Combinatory dictionary

  • Town — For other uses, see Town (disambiguation). Çeşme, Turkey a coastal Turkish town with houses in regional style and an Ottoman Castle …   Wikipedia

  • Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor — Developer(s) Relic Entertainment Publisher(s) TH …   Wikipedia