The Factory Towns of the Baťa company: Ideals in Corporate Practice

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  • O. Ševeček, M. Jemelka, Company Towns of the Baťa Concern. History – Cases – Architecture, Stuttgart 2013

What is a factory town?

The term company town probably first appeared at the end of the 19th century on the North American continent. It was originally used to describe, with noticeable contempt, isolated mining and metallurgical settlements in the Appalachia and Monongahela Valley regions in the eastern United States, which were notorious for the harsh living conditions of a rapidly changing industrial society. At the beginning of the 20th century, the term factory town also began to be used for different types of production settlements in other industries, namely human settlements and production sites dependent on a single business entity. At first, it mainly concerned settlements built in connection with textile mills (mill towns) and also various industrial villages. Subsequently, the term also included model company towns, ambitiously founded by reformist or paternalistic entrepreneurs (Henri Joseph De Gorge-Legrand, Robert Owen, Titus Salt, George Pullman, William Hesketh Lever, George and Richard Cadbury, etc.).
We can justifiably include among the above-mentioned the Zlín industrialist Tomáš Baťa, whose production activities from the late 1920s onwards reached beyond the boundaries of his native Zlín, and even the territory of Czechoslovakia. The Baťa company started building its own factory towns in the late 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, when it began to move production from overcrowded Zlín to other Czechoslovak cities as part of a systematic decentralisation of production. Internationally, Baťa factory towns played the role of a kind of Trojan horse, gaining a foothold in foreign markets that were otherwise difficult if not impossible to penetrate, subsequently colonising them with local production of foreign materials.
In company documents, factory town appeared as early as 1930, probably for the first time in connection with the newly-designed "Baťa factory town" in Otrokovice-Baťov. However, Baťa's Zlín and its production satellites in Czechoslovakia and beyond its borders were mostly referred to as an industrial town in the corporate press and company documents. In many respects, the synonymous terms industrial and factory town (today we also talk about corporate towns) and their use in corporate terminology and discourse clearly indicated that the spatial and social issues of a modern industrial town and industrial society were intensely discussed at Baťa for a long time.
This was the case at the end of the First World War, when the management of the Baťa company found that the economic, social, legislative, and spatial constraints of the town of Zlín hindered the rapid development of the company according to the aspirations of its management. The strategic concept of the Baťa factory town thus arose from the problematic experience of the First World War, when the company had to take over some competencies and investment projects of the municipal government, considerably limited by the reality of war, in order to maintain production continuity and enable its enormous quantitative growth. Directed by the Baťa company, for example, a corporate retail, a company canteen, and a babysitting facility were created. The idea of ​​the factory town of Zlín controlled by Baťa company in many areas of production, social, and everyday life was this way closely connected to the experience that the Baťa company had experienced during the First World War, and especially after the end of the war in times of general social unrest with the real threat of socialisation of large industrial plants involved in war production. The concept of the Baťa factory town thus had its roots not only overseas, but also in its own corporate (war) experience.


Baťa variant of the factory town 

The long-term corporate interest in the organisational structure and social and personnel policy of the industrial giants must be added to the conceptual models and sources of inspiration of the Baťa factory towns. These also included Vítkovické horní a hutní těžířstvo (The Vítkovice Mining and Metallurgical Group), which in the mid-1970s, under the leadership of the director Paul Kupelwieser, joined the so-called New Vítkovice project, a corporate or factory town of the Vítkovice Ironworks, controlled, according to German and Anglo-Saxon models, in most areas of production and reproduction in the broadest sense of the word by a single business entity - Vítkovice Ironworks and Coal Mines (Vítkovické železárny a kamenouhelné doly).
Baťa planners across company departments drew their inspiration - perhaps surprisingly for readers - from ambitious and often megalomaniacal projects of Soviet planners from the time of accelerated industrialisation of the Soviet Union in the 1920s (Magnitogorsk). Soviet technocrats addressed similar challenges as Baťa planners. These consisted mainly in the consistent and comprehensive interconnection of the segments of industrial production and social reproduction. Their common starting point was models and inspirations drawn from the USA. 
Baťa treated American, British, French, German, and Soviet models and inspirations in the field of urban and socio-spatial planning in a completely utilitarian and very eclectic way. It used only those solutions that proved to be suitable for company plans, mostly after empirical verification in practice. Corporate realisations of factory cities and their variants thus often moved in an originally unforeseen direction when moving between two conceptual poles (adopted and own designs on the one hand and local conditions on the other).
The group's experience gained from almost ten years of industrial town planning practice was finally summarised in the company manual Průmyslové město (Industrial Town) (1939), contributors being, on the initiative of Jan Antonín Bata, all competent persons in the Zlín company management who had ever been involved in this issue (e.g. architects, builders and urban planners Gahura, Gočár, Karfík and Sehnal, directors Čipera, Hlavnička, Hoza, Kraus and Vavrečka, teacher Grác, doctor Albert etc.).
What was the content of this internal company document? A substantial part of the file is occupied by technical passages describing very specific aspects of localisation, construction -technological, transport and energy infrastructure, as well as demographic, wage, consumer, educational, cultural and leisure issues.
The basic imperative of Baťa's localisation strategy was, for example, the construction of factory towns in agricultural regions with sufficient manpower and water resources and with transport connections to traditional urban and industrial centres. The manual presents traditional industrial towns as an outdated type of human settlement, which has accumulated most of the negative impacts and features of industrial society. In the Baťa factory towns, they were to be replaced by the rural headquarters of an industrial enterprise and a product with a settlement capacity of around 10,000 inhabitants. The traditional European Enlightenment roots of the Baťa variant of an exemplary industrial city reveal an anthropological focus on happiness in the form of material security for a specific person-employee.
The Industrial Town manual was created on the eve of the Second World War, so it has a largely retrospective character. It summarises group practice with the establishment of factory towns in the politically, economically, and culturally highly heterogeneous environment of individual European countries and at the same time presents alternative solutions arising from specific experiences. The manual demonstrates the complexity of Baťa's planning of factory towns in that it deals not only with spatial planning, but also with social coordinates and political contexts. With regard to the post-war development of Baťa's factory towns in Czechoslovakia and Europe in general, the self-criticism of excessive economic autarchy and social exclusivity of factory towns and their "island mentality" is very interesting as it largely foresaw the post-war development leading to the establishment of social collectivism in the conditions of state socialism.
The manual suggests a departure from the interwar ideal of building detached houses in favour of jet construction of multi-storey buildings and warns against underestimating the traditional aspects of human settlements, such as the city centre. We could go on and on about this list. However, the company manual Industrial Town credibly demonstrates the complexity of Baťa's planning of factory towns as urban, architectural, economic and social entities, which on the one hand have always respected local conditions and on the other ambitiously sought to establish a new order of modern industrial society.


By 1945, the Baťa company had founded sixteen of the following factory towns on the European continent (sorted by the date of the start of Baťa's production): Třebíč-Borovina (Czechoslovakia, 13 May 1931), Borovo (Kingdom of Yugoslavia, 7 June 1931), Ottmuth (German Empire, 27 November 1931), Chełmek (Polish Republic, early February 1932), Otrokovice-Baťov, (Czechoslovakia, spring 1932), Möhlin (Swiss Confederation, end of August 1932), Hellocourt-Bataville (French Republic, beginning of November 1932), Ratíškovice, (Czechoslovakia, 1 December 1932), East Tilbury (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, July 1933), Best-Batadorp (Kingdom of the Netherlands, March 24, 1934), Svit-Batizovce (Czechoslovakia, end of September or mid-October 1934), Napajedla (Czechoslovakia, after May 15, 1935), Zruč nad Sázavou (Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, 29 May 1939), Šimonovany-Baťovany (Slovak Republic, 15 July 1939), Sezimovo Ústí (Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, 7 December 1939) and Martfü (Kingdom of Hungary, summer 1942). In addition to European locations, other factory towns included Batanagar in British India (late 1934), Batawa in Canada (August 1939) and Belcamp in the United States (October 1939).
By 1945, dozens of smaller manufacturing companies and operations were established in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, but their development was not accompanied by a decision to build a comprehensive housing and social programme. A special chapter in this context was the settlement projects in Brazil, led by JA Baťa since the 1940s, which gave rise to several other agri-industrial settlements: Batatuba (São Paulo, 1940), Mariápolis (São Paulo, 1943), Bataguassu (Mato Grosso do Sul, 1948), Batayporã (Mato Grosso do Sul, 1953).


Otrokovice Baťov

The vision of a factory town with quality energy and transport infrastructure, developed civic amenities and modern corporate housing, intended not only for management but also for ordinary employees, was first fully developed by Baťa in 1930 in the neighbourhood of the corporate capital Zlín, in nearby Otrokovice-Baťov.
In the history of Baťa's urbanism and construction, Otrokovice-Baťa has great importance: the preparation of the construction site of the future factory town in the local part of Bahňák in a large swampy area between the factory complex and the Morava River was absolutely unique. The building area was created by the “washing out” of the Tresný hill, the mass of which was deliberately disrupted by a water jet in the years 1933–1936. The company's obsession with water resources, vital for tannery and shoe production, made Otrokovice a cargo river port at the beginning of what became known as the Baťa canal (1938). By the end of the 1930s, the Otrokovice corporate airport, the scene of the plane accident in which Tomáš Baťa died in July 1932, also acquired national importance. 
Enormous population growth was unprecedented in the Czechoslovak coordinates - in the years 1930–1938, the number of local inhabitants increased fourfold to 8,000 people. And we could continue the list of Otrokovice primacies in the history of the Baťa company, especially with regard to the unique construction technologies used in the factory complex and the record production values of the Otrokovice tannery, which was one of the most modern in Europe between the wars as well as after 1945.
It is definitely true that it was Otrokovice-Baťov that played the role of an experimental area in which many innovations of the Baťa system were applied and verified, whether they concerned waste management, the development and use of new production materials, or business education. If we label the factory towns of the Baťa Group as laboratories of the new industrial world and its social organisation, we certainly do not exaggerate.


Martin Jemelka