Date of Award

3-19-2010

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Michelle Brattain - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Charles G. Steffen - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Krystyn Moon - Committee Member

Abstract

This study considers industrial society and development in the East Tennessee Copper Basin from the 1890s through World War II; its main focus will be on the primary industrial concern, Tennessee Copper Company (TCC 1899), owned by the Lewisohn Group, New York. The study differs from other Appalachian scholarship in its assessment of New South industries generally overlooked. Wars and increased reliance on organic chemicals tied the basin to defense needs and agricultural advance. Locals understood the basin held expanding economic opportunities superior to those in the surrounding mountains and saw themselves as participants in the nation’s industrial and economic progress, and a vital part of its defense. The study upends earlier scholarship contending local industrial concerns acted proactively to challenges from farmers harmed by industrial pollution; investigation shows firms hesitated to initiate new production processes and manipulated local elections. Partisan developments woven amid all this underscore errors in assuming ancient regional affinity for Republicans. Confederate heritage gave Democrats an historic advantage that fractured before New Deal progressivism and expanding basin Republican power. Markets forced basin firms to merge and embrace technological change affecting working people’s relationships, forcing workers to improve skills or settle for low-skill jobs. Excepting TCC managers and supervisory staff, provincialism ruled; suspicions and competitiveness among workers grew as most miners lived a few scattered villages and most managers and craftsmen settled in the basin’s “Twin-cities” district. Early union efforts collapsed before union mismanagement, rational management and a company union based upon Sam Lewisohn’s ideals. Management managed to wrest control of its industrial relations despite the effects of Depression and the New Deal’s empowerment of workers. Workers’ infighting, reflecting neighborhood demographics and ideological differences, benefitted TCC; it convinced locals TCC could best protect industrial peace. The submissive AFL union installed fit of ownership’s nationally recognized program for industrial relations reliant on federal power. After competition crippled local industry, locals continued their reliance on government: to investigate the medical consequences of extraction work and coordinate environmental restoration. Recent regional anti-government populism makes the basin’s peculiar historic reliance on federal help engaging.

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