From 1894 to 1934, a span of forty years that saw its parent company go from coal mining to oil drilling, the Texas Pacific Mercantile and Manufacturing Company operated and managed the various commercial and service enterprises essential to life in Thurber, Texas.
Thurber was a company town, wholly owned by the Texas and Pacific Coal Company, and the inhabitants viewed the ôcompany storeö with suspicion before and after unionization in 1903, believing it monopolistic and exploitative. But to call the mercantile a monopoly, or a mere contrivance to exploit laborers, paints an incomplete portrait of the company store as it existed in Thurber and elsewhere.
With a keen eye for contextùhoned by a career in bankingùTucker reads the pages of ledgers in the same way most historians read diaries or newspapers. In this thoroughgoing study he examines a wealth of company records, interviews, and newspaper accounts, presenting a case study not only of the microcosm of Thurber and TPM&M but of relations between labor and management in industrializing Texas, and a larger story of the complex role of the company store and company town in America.
If readers find the idea of a coal mining town in a state known for its nearly limitless supplies of oil to be peculiar, that was just one of several paradoxes surrounding Thurber. . . . Tucker [has done] what all good historians should do . . . His study is therefore not only eye-opening for Thurber, but, by extension, . . . company stores and company towns generally . . . [I]mportant lessons can be learned from a nearly vanished Texas mining ghost town--lessons that . . . just might help us better understand the controversial role of corporate commerce in present-day America. ùRichard Francaviglia, from the foreword