Historians have mostly considered company towns as places of exhausting labor, political oppression, and conflicts between business and labor communities over bettering work and living conditions. Though these features were indeed among the general characteristics of company towns, their conditions changed dramatically within the last few decades of the nineteenth century that is called the Gilded Age in the United States. Family houses replaced barracks, sewerage and indoor plumbing were installed, schools and theaters became available for the residents of many company towns on both sides of the Atlantic. White, pink, and skilled blue-collar workers had access to commodities and conditions that had previously been available only for aristocrats and the bourgeois elite.
This paper will look at the emergence of welfare capitalism in company towns in the Russian Empire and the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. I will argue that, connected to the labor movements, the necessity to attract and maintain a loyal workforce by the companies brought dramatic changes in the living standard of working communities. Since the company towns were especially dependent on the migrated workforce, they launched numerous urban welfare programs and therefore contributed to the emergence of a new middle working class.
Volodymyr Kulikov is Fulbright-Kennan Institute Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and research fellow at the Department of History, Karazin Kharkiv National University in Kharkiv, Ukraine. His publications cover history of industrialization, entrepreneurship, and big business in the Russian Empire as well as history of company towns in Ukraine.