"You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store"
— Merle Travis, "16 Tons"
When a town is controlled by a single company. In Real Life
these were popular in the days before automobiles allowed workers to freely commute. A company would build a town to provide local services such as libraries and general stores. The downside was that many companies price gouged
and used debt bondage
to keep their employees from leaving for a better job. Their prevalence was one of the factors that led to the formation of labor unions in the USA in the 20s and 30s, often with violent resistance from these companies, who employed Pinkerton Detectives
or similar to suppress labor organizing and strikes. Not all Company Towns are bad
, some were created to provide a better standard of living and create jobs. Others exist simply because the town in question is so remote, no one else wants to move in.
The more modern version of trope applies when a single commercial organization has far greater power
than the rest, that it effectively runs the place. Smaller, independent businesses will exist to support the people who work and live there.
If the company has enough resources to build a town quickly, it's also a Boom Town
. Should a the company in question fail, the town can become a Dying Town
or Ghost Town
. If it's not a company, but a family
running things, then it's closer to feudalism
. You can expect this trope to be Recycled In Space
, with Asteroid Miners
taking the place of Earth Miners
Compare with Only Shop In Town
(there's usually more than one shop, but they're either in league with or owned by a single company); One Nation Under Copyright
(a Mega Corp
owning a citystate or bigger); I Own This Town
(one person running things); Egopolis
: a town named after the dictator who controls it; and Elaborate University High
(for a collegiate version).
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Anime and Manga
- FLCL: Medical Mechanica may fill this role to the city whose skyline it dominates. or it might just be a giant alien steam-iron.
- Ghost Hound: Suiten has Dai-Nippon Bio that employes a lot of the town, but there are also smaller businesses on the side, like Tarou's parents' brewery.
- There was a series of Green Arrow stories where he worked alongside Green Lantern that played off of their divergent view of law and justice, and one story had them go to a mining town in the Rocky Mountains called Desolation, which was an example of the really bad type of these. As discussed here, the whole story is not very realistic, particularly in regard to having such a town still existing in the 1970s.
- Matewan was set in Matewan, West Virginia in the 1920s, which was a company town controlled by a coal company. It told the story of people resisting this arrangement and forming a miner's union, facing harsh suppression by company enforcers.
- The Rundown involves a mining town in a remote part of Brazil that's run this way, at around the present time.
- Outland has a company-town and mining camp, in the form of a mining station in orbit around Jupiter.
- In the Robocop movies, Omnicorp's plan to level the current Detroit and replace it with a "New Detroit" that would be entirely corporate-owned.
- Raccoon City was this in the Resident Evil movies.
- The Company Town by Hardy Green
- Building the Workingman's Paradise by Margaret Crawford
- Company Towns from Susana Torres
- Red Harvest is set in one of these officially known as Personville, but popularly called "Poisonville". The town is essentially the fiefdom of industrialist Elihu Willsson, "Czar of Poisonville", and Willsson established his control by hiring various gangs of thugs to help him "settle" a labor dispute and enforce that settlement. At the time the story starts, this has started to backfire on Willsson, as the gangs proceeded to fight for power among themselves and bring anarchy to the town.
- October Sky is set in Coalwood, West Virginia, a real town founded, owned, and operated by the Carter Coal Company and then sold to the Consolidation Coal Company (which became the Olga Coal Company...) to house workers at the Coalwood mine. Attempts to unionize the mine are part of the story.
- EUReKA centers around Global Dynamics, with it's mayor even being a former employee.
- Firefly: Jayne explicitly uses this term for Canton, the ceramics workers' town on Higgins' Moon in "Jaynestown". It's one of the bad ones: Magistrate Higgins pays the workers almost nothing so he can get filthy rich, and they're mostly indentured so they can't legally quit. The RPG rulebook says that Higgins' son has been working to improve conditions since the episode, however.
- In The Secret World of Alex Mack, nearly everyone in the town works for the chemical company that sprayed Alex.
- In the episode "A Private War" of the TV show Guns of Paradise, a mining company uses strongarm tactics to try to buy or ruin all independent businesses in town.
- The Sliders episode "Season's Greetings" had the Sliders land near a city sized mall that was effectively one of these, turned Up to Eleven. Not only were prices exorbitant and wages low, but:
- Cash was not allowed, only the mall's debit accounts.
- Employees in the mall were required to spend 80% of wages earned within the mall. Failure to do so would cause your wages to be docked.
- Those who took on actual debt to pay for their purchases were forced to wear an electronic shackle that prevented them from leaving the mall.
- The mall was also secretly using Subliminal Advertising to get people to spend more money on things they didn't really need. Of all of these, this is the only thing the mall was doing that most people on that world considered immoral or illegal.
- Quarra, in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Workforce", appears to be a Company Planet.
- Classic Traveller Double Adventure 3 "Death Station". The adventure starts with the PCs on the planet Gadden, working at a small mining camp. The wages are cheap and the expenses are exorbitant, and the PCs are in debt over their heads to the company store.
- Killer7 contains a subversion. The stage Cloudman takes place within a company town, but the end of the stage reveals that the company itself isn't even real, and the monolithic building the city is built around is just a flat prop.
- In Star Trek Online, the player is sent to investigate a planet with a Romulan mining town, completely controlled by a Ferengi and a mining company. The people are living in squalor. They're allowed just enough currency to buy upgrades for their machinery, or food, but not both. The Ferengi in charge mentions how prices for food rations have doubled due to recent events. Further investigation reveals a hidden Romulan communications base, with the Romulans in charge paying off the Ferengi to keep quiet.
- Midgar (and Junon, and really the whole world) from Final Fantasy VII, a colossal metropolis constructed and ruled explicitly by the Shinra corporation.
- Finkton from Bioshock Infinite hits pretty much all the marks. Long, strictly-enforced working hours, pitiful wages that are paid in scrip only usable at the company store, and propaganda all over the place trying to convince employees they don't need things like sick leave or lunch breaks.
- Detroit Deluxe from Motorcity seems partly based on Midgar; while they're both Sci-Fi Company Towns built over massive slums, Deluxe favors the Ascetic Aesthetic in comparison to Midgar's Diesel Punk.
- For list of company towns in the world, see the other wiki.
- The closed cities played a similar role in the Soviet Union, except they were usually built around state-controlled research institutes and military (particularly nuclear and aerospace) production facilities rather than privately-owned companies. Currently, both closed cities and the more traditional company towns exist in Russia, the latter tend to be concentrated in the resource-rich but severe Northern Siberia. Including a whole Company City, Norilsk.