FACTORY A and office
building in 1929. (Union
Carbide Corporation.)

"Bring in some good
workers like yourselves"

In 1892, National Carbon Company (now Union Carbide Corporation) purchased land for a factory just to the west of Cleveland. On the eastern half of the land they planned an office and factory. Slavic workers came to this environment initially perhaps by accident; somehow a few Slovak immigrants gained unskilled construction jobs at the factory site. At the time the foremen who controlled employee recruitment generally acquired new laborers by asking their charges to "bring in some good workers like yourselves." Those workers, in turn, brought in their relatives, friends, and neighbors who needed jobs. Slavs came to dominate the unskilled construction jobs. When the factory opened up, these workers and eventually their relatives, friends, and neighbors established control over the unskilled factory jobs.

With little housing near the factory and no completed streetcar line from the city employees of National Carbon Con found it hard to get to work. Although they could take the streetcar part of the way, they had to walk several miles beyond the end of the line to reach the factory Winter snow and mud throughout the year made the effort all the more arduous.

In response to these problems, National Carbon set up a subsidiary land company, Pleasant Hill Land Company, which subdivided the western half of their land holding into eight streets and 424 narrow lots. It is not clear if they planned to build a factory town, though in the early years PHLC did construct some houses and rent them to workers. But they soon sold these as well as the remaining unimproved lots; the last one sold in 1923.

The "village" adjacent to National Carbon grew slowly; by 1900 it had only 429 residents. During the next decade, however, the population grew dramatically to 2,186, and between 1910 and 1920 it doubled again. A construction boom just before World War I filled many of the lots; additional building between the Great War and Great Depression completed the neighborhood save for the few post-World War II ranch-style homes that now dot the neighborhood.

It is not surprising that Slavs, having gained a strong foothold in construction work, then unskilled factory jobs, ultimately came to dominate the neighborhood. But it was not easy. Despite the advantage of living near the factory, low wages and long hours gave workers few resources with which to buy a house and lot. Birdtowners overcame the obstacles by helping one another: relatives, friends, and neighbors pooled skills and financial and social resources to make it possible ultimately to construct a neighborhood.


Last Updated May 24, 2000

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