Employers in remote areas in industries such as lumbering and mining used to build entire towns for their employees, but that era is long past. Scotia, California, the last wholly owned company town, is about to be put on the market and was recently profiled in Newsweek.
But although most remaining company towns ceased being company towns long ago, some of the towns continue on, and sometimes the idea comes up in pop culture - the Simpsons temporarily lived in a company town, in the Scorpio episode, “You Only Move Twice.”
Today, monster corporations in Silicon Valley are offering more all-inclusive employee benefits and they’re even buying up land, raising the possibility of a new version of the company town.
Click ahead for an overview of some of America’s company towns.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 1 Mar 2011
Company: The Hershey Company
Hershey’s original chocolate factory opened in 1905, and the town originally named Derry Church rebranded as Hershey in 1906 as the chocolate’s popularity rose. Milton S. Hershey developed everything for his employees: housing, education, cultural facilities, banks, utilities, inexpensive transit, and even recreation, including Hershey Park, which was built for employees’ enjoyment in 1907.
The Hershey Company remains the nation's leading confectionary manufacturer, and with related businesses like Hersheypark, Hersheypark Stadium, and Hershey Gardens, Hershey remains a major employer in its town today.
Company: The Pullman Palace Car Company
Pullman is now a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side with two historic areas. The 4,000 acre area was once an iconic company town independent from Chicago, developed by the Pullman Company, which made sleeping cars for trains until the 1980s as well as streetcars and trolley buses.
Pullman supplied its 6,000 employees and their dependents with all their living needs—housing, shopping, churches, and entertainment. Housing featured prime amenities of the day like indoor plumbing, gas, and sewers, although employees were not permitted to live in non-company housing with lower rent. After founder George Pullman died, Pullman became part of Chicago following a Supreme Court ruling in 1898.
Company: Oneida Community/ Oneida Limited
Founded: incorporated 1848
The Oneida Community of about 300 persons who lived in one 93,000 square-foot mansion was a communal utopian society with Perfectionist beliefs whose members practiced “complex marriage” and also identified as Bible Communists. Got it? (It’s a little too much to explain in this space, but here’s an article about them from The New York Times.
In addition to inventing the Victor mousetrap and the Lazy Susan, the community produced silk and canned goods and eventually became Oneida Limited, the famous manufacturer of flatware, china, and glassware. In the 1990s, Oneida was the last remaining US manufacturer of flatware, but no longer maintains manufacturing facilities in the U.S.
Company: Phelps Dodge Corporation
Population: 0 or minimal
Phelps Dodge Corporation was a mining company specializing in copper that has been acquired by Freeport-McMoRan. The town of Playas was built along the Southern Pacific Railroad, not far from the Mexican border, to house 400-plus employees of the company. When the smelter closed in 1999, Playa residents had to get out of (Phelps) Dodge’s company town by June 1, 2000.
However, that was not the end of activity in Playas, just the end of its function as a residential area. The 1970s-era ghost town of Playas now functions as an anti-terrorism practice field. According to the Center for Land Use Interpretation,New Mexico Tech purchased the town in 2004 with $5 million in funds from the Department of Homeland Security, and uses Playas to stand in as a typical American suburb for first responders and counter-terrorism training programs.
Company: Vincente Martinez Ybor
Population: 2,900 (2003 estimate)
The neighborhood of Ybor was once an independent town founded by cigar maker Vincente Martinez Ybor, a Cuban immigrant who built hundreds of houses for his employees, many who hailed from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. However, unlike in Pullman, Illinois, employees were allowed to own their homes and land. Mutual aid societies and civic organizations were instrumental in employees developing their community.
Like so many American urban areas, Ybor went through a period of decline in the 1960s and 70s, and its revitalization began in the 1980s through the 90s. Today, Ybor is a National Historic Landmark District and is a popular spot for nightlife in Tampa.
Company: St. Louis Stamping Company
Founded: incorporated in 1896
Anyone who has roasted a turkey inside an enameled iron roasting pan that’s speckled for a granite effect is familiar with the main export of Granite City, Granite Ware. With the arrival of German brothers Frederic G. and William Niedringhaus in the early 1890s, the settlement’s name of changed from Kinderhook to Granite City.
The brothers hired engineers to plan Granite City as one of the company towns featuring alphabetically named and numbered streets. Employees were required to live in the town and buy their homes using Niedringhaus mortgages, but they were allowed to self-govern.
Company: Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company
William Gwinn Mather, president of the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company, called his company town “The Model Town” because it was planned to be a model for all of CCI’s other developments. As part of the design, Gwinn’s forward-thinking landscape architect Warren H. Manning was careful to leave some old-growth trees intact and planted many new ones.
The company withdrew control of the town and it was fully relinquished by the Great Depression, and had divested all real estate by the 1940s, but the high school's teams today are called the Model Towners.
Company: Ruskin College
Trenton’s history centers around Ruskin College (named for the Utopian John Ruskin). In 1900 Walter Vrooman donated land to what was then Avalon College, then he began buying up the major businesses in town.
Ruskin College loaned money to its students, who could work for its businesses. Vrooman made a cooperative arrangement in his store wherein frequent shoppers received a year-end dividend. However, by 1903 the Utopian attempt had failed, and Ruskin college moved twice, eventually settling in Ruskin, Florida.
Company: United States Bureau of Reclamation
Founded: 1931, incorporated 1959
Boulder City was built in just over a year’s time as a home for the workers building the Hoover Dam (then known as the Boulder Dam). Before the city was built, squatters were already camping there building the dam. The city forbade alcohol sales, gambling, and unions—but it had an air-conditioned movie theatre, which in the 1930s in Nevada summers, was luxurious indeed.
When work on the dam was complete in 1935, workers wanted to stay in Boulder City. Plans to demolish the homes were canceled and the government maintained control over the reservation until the town’s incorporation.
Company: Imperial Sugar Company
Founded: mid-1900s, incorporated 1959
What began as Oakland plantation on land once owned by Mexico became a company town from the 1910s until its incorporation in 1959. Imperial Sugar provided housing, schools, medical facilities, and various businesses for its employees.
Sugar Land is now a rapidly expanding upscale suburb of Houston.