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chapter 4 Constructing a Region of Christian Free Enterprise In March 1942, Roger Norman Conger left his successful sales career to work with his father-in-law, William S. Hammond, to expand the market for the Hammond Laundry-Cleaning Machinery Company, headquartered in Waco, Texas. Waco was a small city in central Texas, famous only for a horrific lynching in 1921 until World War II transformed it, first by reviving the demand for cotton products and later by making it a center for military establishments and defense industries. Almost overnight, the previously stagnating city sprang to life; Waco became the armed forces’ leading manufacturer of cots, tents, mattresses, and barracks bags. The Waco Army Air Field opened in 1942 to train pilots, followed by the building of the Bluebonnet Ordnance Plant. By 1943, Waco was home to nine defense plants. Roger Conger saw his opportunity. The Hammond Company converted to “war production,” winning a contract to produce the laundry machinery for Henry Kaiser’s shipbuilding operations in addition to government contracts for military-base laundry equipment. The company soon outgrew its production facility but benefited from the end of the war and the availability of a building erected by the North American Aircraft Company in Waco to manufacture airplane wings. Within a span of three years, the Hammond Company had tripled its manufacturing space and become one of the major laundry-machine making companies in the country.1 The Hammond story ran counter to the experiences of many local employers. Population skyrocketed, surging from 55,000 in 1940 to 84,000 by 1950, placing a terrible strain on wages and housing. In 1943, a War Manpower Commission study found only four vacant apartments in the area as soaring rents pinched the pockets of Waco workers. When the war ended, numerous major industrial concerns, starting with the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, sought to take advantage of the abandoned war production factories, the excellent transportation network, and the plentiful supply of labor that existed in the region. General Tire and Rubber soon followed, opening its plant with “a patriotic display and pageant and all sorts of commotion” encouraged by the Chamber of Commerce and local 88 chapter 4 boosters. Newspaper editor Harry Mayo Provence remembered the hopes but also the anxieties generated by the arrival of large modern companies, some with unionized workforces: “There was a good deal of heartburn about it among the garment people and some others who [employed] mill workers—who weren’t used to paying that sort of money.” The changes also frightened the strong religious community in Waco (home to the Southern Baptists’ Baylor University), which mobilized to pass a countywide prohibition law in 1944.2 Even Roger Conger worried about the toll that industrial development took on Waco and the Hammond Laundry-Cleaning Machinery Company. Before long, union organizers made their first efforts to gain representation rights for Hammond workers, to Conger’s dismay. “We had always been a close-knit, family-knit sort of an organization,” he recalled, even opening every Monday morning with a “devotional” meeting with employees in the assembly room on company time. “We gave the men an opportunity to either voice, if they felt sufficiently confident, a favorite scripture of theirs . . . or invite their minister or their Sunday school teacher to come down to their place of business and give a brief devotional” before work began. But as the workforce grew, Hammond hired workers who had been union members in other places, and they began to agitate for collective bargaining among the workers. Eventually, the employees voted to be represented by the Machinists Union, and “one of the first things the union did” after winning “was to eliminate the Monday morning [devotional] assembly,” claiming that it was a “paternal” attitude that was no longer appropriate. William Hammond wanted to close the factory immediately, but Conger, after consulting with the company’s lawyers, convinced Hammond that they could negotiate so slowly that the union would be forced to strike, at which time they could either replace the workers or “get a contract that we could live with.”3 The struggle at the Hammond Laundry-Cleaning Machine Company to win the hearts and minds of the South’s working class was repeated in thousands of workplaces as World War II came to an end. Waco turned out to be one of the hundreds of southern towns and cities that felt the first effects of the restructuring of American industry that followed the war...


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