A Place to Live and Work

The Henry Disston Saw Works and the Tacony Community of Philadelphia

By (author) Harry C. Silcox

Paperback - £28.95

Publication date:

15 April 1994

Length of book:

252 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271030753

A rich history of the unique relationship between life and work in an American factory town from 1840 to 1984, A Place to Live and Work tells the remarkable story of Henry Disston's saw manufacturing company and the factory town he built. The book provides a rare view of the rise of one of America's largest and most powerful family-owned businesses, from its modest beginnings in 1840 to the 1940s, when Disston products were known worldwide, to the sale and demise of the company in the postwar years. Henry Disston, however, not only built a factory; he also shaped Tacony, the town in northeastern Philadelphia where the workers lived. The book describes the company's interdependence with the community and profiles the lifestyle that grew out of Disston's paternalistic blueprint for Tacony.

Using original letter books, shop committee meeting notes, photographs, and a wealth of other documents, Harry Silcox reveals Disston's highly sophisticated distribution and marketing system as well as a management system that, unlike the one advocated by Frederick Winslow Taylor, responded to the concerns of workers and foremen. Through two world wars, the Depression, and the rise of unions, Disston's innovative business practices enabled the company to remain active and strong even when factories across the nation were failing.

This study raises important questions about the demise of the factory system and its impact on urban communities and family life. The Disston company provides one example of how people could work and live together successfully within the larger framework of the factory system.

“One-hundred-year histories of firms and communities are rare. The Disston Company provides an excellent case study to examine issues of interest to business, economic, labor, and social historians. The extraordinary photographs by themselves represent a contribution to scholarship. This book deserves to reach a wide audience.”

—Walter Licht, University of Pennsylvania