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Morgan Park

Morgan Park: Duluth, U.S. Steel, and the Forging of a Company Town

Arnold R. Alanen
With Photographs by Chris Faust
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 360
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttv2qx
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  • Book Info
    Morgan Park
    Book Description:

    Starting with the intense political debates that preceded U.S. Steel’s decision to build a plant in Duluth, Morgan Park follows the company town and its residents through the boom years to the closing of the outmoded facility—an event that foreshadowed industrial shutdowns elsewhere in the United States—and up to today, as current residents work to preserve the community’s historic character.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5372-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: MODEL COMPANY TOWNS IN AMERICA, 1800–1914
    (pp. 1-18)

    Company towns have been part of the fabric of American life since the early nineteenth century, or about one hundred years before Morgan Park emerged in northeastern Minnesota. Some of these places are identified as “model towns,” “model villages,” or “model cities” because of their unique attributes: innovative physical designs that utilized the talents of professional architects, landscape architects, planners, and engineers; and social programs that provided a menu of benefits for workers and their families. The intention of these offerings was not necessarily altruistic, however, for model towns were primarily intended to attract skilled and dependable workers who would...

  6. I. A Steel Plant and a Company Town, 1907–1915

    • 1. THE ECONOMICS AND POLITICS OF IRON ORE AND BIG STEEL
      (pp. 21-32)

      Duluth’s residents rejoiced in April 1907 when they heard that a steel plant would be constructed in their city. With financing supplied by the U.S. Steel Corporation, America’s first billion-dollar organization, Duluthians believed their city was on the verge of becoming the “Pittsburgh of the Northwest.”¹ The decision to build in Duluth, however, occurred only after U.S. Steel officials and Minnesota politicians had entered into a complex courtship that started somewhat demurely at the turn of the twentieth century, but then became extremely tumultuous during the first three months of 1907. The early April marriage forged between the two parties...

    • 2. BUILDING A STEEL PLANT: RECESSION, INDECISION, AND WAR
      (pp. 33-55)

      In mid-June 1907, U.S. Steel formed the Minnesota Steel Company as a subsidiary organization that would oversee the land acquisition, construction, and eventual operation of its Duluth manufacturing operations. All of Minnesota Steel’s officers held executive positions with U.S. Steel, which meant that major decisions regarding the emerging facility were made in the corporation’s New York City headquarters. Several officials, however, moved to Duluth, where they supervised the day-to-day activities associated with steel plant construction and management. The most important of these early executives was George L. Reis, who served as Minnesota Steel’s first vice president and general manager.¹

      Minnesota...

    • 3. NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSING FROM GARY TO OLIVER
      (pp. 56-70)

      Duluth’s steel plant would not operate until late 1915, but by 1909–10, several hundred construction laborers working at the future manufacturing site required housing. The need for residences grew steadily as work progressed over subsequent years.

      The first sixty company-built houses opened in the model town of Morgan Park during the spring of 1914; nonetheless, even when just over five hundred units were available by 1922, no more than 15 to 25 percent of the corporation’s permanent workforce found accommodations in the model village. Thus, most employees resided in Duluth’s older neighborhoods, or acquired new housing in recently developed...

    • 4. THE EMERGENCE OF A MODEL COMPANY TOWN
      (pp. 71-106)

      Public notice of U.S. Steel’s intentions to build a model company town on the distant outskirts of Duluth appeared in May 1913, but earlier signs indicated that the huge corporation was planning a community for its workers. In January 1909, theDuluth Heraldnoted that U.S. Steel eventually would build a new town for several thousand people next to the manufacturing plant, while a March 1910 account in theDuluth News Tribunegave a more explicit description of the corporation’s intentions: to provide a model town, complete with “strictly modern homes, beautiful as to architecture and commodious of arrangement, business...

  7. II. Working and Living in Morgan Park, 1916–1929

    • 5. STABILITY AND PROSPERITY FOR U.S. STEEL
      (pp. 109-136)

      Despite its relatively small size and isolated location, the steel plant at Morgan Park was influenced by numerous events that played out on a national and global stage from 1916 through 1929. The period began with millions of European troops engaged in seemingly endless and senseless trench warfare, and concluded almost a decade and a half later with a world poised on the edge of a major economic depression. The first three years of the plant’s existence, from 1916 through 1918, were characterized by high employment and production figures that would not be approached until another war engulfed the world...

    • 6. THE COMPLETE COMPANY TOWN
      (pp. 137-181)

      Morgan Park was home to about six hundred people at the beginning of 1916. To resident and visitor alike, the most obvious feature that distinguished the embryonic community was “the extensive use of concrete for municipal purposes, as well as for all the dwellings.” Despite the almost universal application of concrete, a material generally considered drab, harsh, dull, and massive, visitors were impressed with Morgan Park’s “attractive appearance.” Delegates from the Minnesota League of Municipalities who toured Morgan Park in 1916 gave a succinct summary of their impressions: “This is certainly a clean place,” they observed. One year later a...

    • Photographs of Morgan Park
      (pp. None)
      Chris Faust
    • 7. ENGINEERING THE GOOD LIFE
      (pp. 182-216)

      Other than a few, brief downturns, the U.S. Steel Corporation experienced remarkable financial success during the twentieth century’s first three decades. Throughout this period the gigantic firm possessed sufficient monetary resources to build, manage, and maintain thousands of company houses throughout the nation. Indications of U.S. Steel’s financial accomplishments certainly were evident at Morgan Park, where a model town stood next to a manufacturing plant that employed a few thousand workers, and where the smoke of prosperity billowed from large stacks outlined against the sky (Figure 7.1).

      Since the severe economic restrictions that began during the early 1930s led to...

  8. III. From Despair to Prosperity, 1930–1945

    • 8. STRUGGLING FOR WORK DURING THE 1930S
      (pp. 219-230)

      Minnesota Steel’s employees had endured cutbacks and even a brief shutdown at the manufacturing plant during the 1920s, but these were minor events compared to what transpired throughout much of the 1930s. The “hot side” of the plant was shut down for more than five years, and one of the two blast furnaces was totally dismantled at mid-decade. Only the mills composing the “cold side” of the facility operated whenever small contracts were received from manufacturers. No wonder that steel plant employees felt fortunate if they found even part-time work during the Depression.

      Kenneth Warren has described the overall condition...

    • 9. GETTING BY AND MAKING DO
      (pp. 231-239)

      Morgan Park’s company town status may have been maintained through the precarious years of the Great Depression, but several management changes foreshadowed the much more dramatic transitions of the 1940s. The first change occurred in 1930 when Morgan Park’s street names and numbers were altered and integrated with those of Duluth.¹ Three years later, responsibility for most of Morgan Park’s community services was transferred to the City of Duluth, and by mid-decade, non-steel-plant employees were permitted to rent housing in Morgan Park and preliminary plans were being made to sell the residences.

      U.S. Steel’s drastic financial losses of the early...

    • 10. MORE STEEL FOR ANOTHER WAR
      (pp. 240-253)

      The United States did not officially declare war against the Axis powers until late 1941, but the nation’s manufacturing firms clearly were on an increasingly active wartime footing as the 1940s began. U.S. Steel Corporation plants throughout the nation produced twenty-three million tons of steel in 1940, the highest figure since 1929, and then manufactured close to thirty million tons annually from 1941 through 1944, all record totals for the firm.¹

      The virtually insatiable national and global appetite for steel was also reflected in notable production gains at Morgan Park during the wartime years. The situation contrasted sharply with plant...

    • 11. NO MORE COMPANY HOUSING
      (pp. 254-260)

      As the 1940s dawned, radio and newspaper accounts provided Morgan Parkers with information about military and political crises in Europe and Asia. America’s formal entry into the global conflict would not occur until the end of 1941, but the round-the-clock production activities at the steel plant that began in 1940 gave residents front-row access to the earliest preparations for war. And then, during the early 1940s, Morgan Park’s inhabitants were forced to confront an issue that further compounded their already hectic lives—U.S. Steel’s decision to sell most of its properties in the community, including all of the dwelling units....

  9. IV. Closing a Steel Plant but Preserving a Community, 1946–2006

    • 12. SIX STRIKES TO SHUTDOWN
      (pp. 263-277)

      The nation’s post–World War II steel demands, which included the Korean War years of 1950–53, were responsible for limited expansions and upgrades at the Morgan Park plant. Likewise, the record steel-production figures achieved throughout the early and mid-1940s were quickly exceeded, albeit relatively modestly, during the 1950s. For the labor force employed at Morgan Park, however, the most important events were six nationwide strikes that took place from 1946 to 1959, most of which resulted in significant wage, vacation, pension, and other gains for steelworkers.

      Despite these seemingly favorable events, the future of the steel plant appeared increasingly...

    • 13. PRESERVING THE MODEL TOWN
      (pp. 278-298)

      Morgan Park’s residential district underwent numerous transitions from 1946 onward. The community’s future appeared assured when more than one hundred new dwelling units were built from 1952 to the early 1960s, but conditions changed dramatically when the steel plant closed in late 1971. Over time, housing values declined, although it was income loss that most directly impacted Morgan Parkers. Several nonresidential buildings were razed from the 1950s on, but new citizens interested in rehabilitating and preserving Morgan Park’s historic homes started moving into the community during the 1970s. Since then, however, the preservationists’ objectives have not always meshed with the...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 299-326)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 327-338)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 339-339)