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Factory Man

How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town

By Beth Macy
15-minute read
Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy

Factory Man unveils the dark side of globalization; that is, the horrific impact it has had on American business and the lives of factory workers. In its detailed examination of twentieth-century furniture manufacturing, it reveals how to fight against the death of the local economy and, more importantly, why this fight is worth it.

  • Anyone whose industry has been impacted by globalization
  • People in the furniture business
  • Anyone interested in geopolitics and offshoring

Beth Macy is an American author and journalist who has won more than a dozen awards for excellence in journalism. As the daughter of a factory worker, she has devoted her work to the lives of regular people.

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Factory Man

How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town

By Beth Macy
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Contains 9 key ideas
Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy
Synopsis

Factory Man unveils the dark side of globalization; that is, the horrific impact it has had on American business and the lives of factory workers. In its detailed examination of twentieth-century furniture manufacturing, it reveals how to fight against the death of the local economy and, more importantly, why this fight is worth it.

Key idea 1 of 9

American furniture manufacturers experienced a golden age in the early to mid 1900s.

On the tail end of the industrial revolution, the early 1900s were marked by innovation in technology and manufacturing. Computers, automation and global networks were yet to come, and people willing to break a sweat were the driving force of new potential.

It was the ideal climate for traditional American industry, such as furniture-making.

As people relocated from rural areas to towns and cities, to be closer to the new factories and industry in which they worked, demand for mass-produced furniture boomed.

The expansion of the railroad networks made it possible to transport these large pieces of furniture easily, such that a furniture manufacturer could service customers across the United States.

John David Basset Sr., who began making bedroom furniture in Virginia in 1902, profited greatly from the era’s economic climate.

Seeing the potential of using his family’s land and forests to build furniture, he procured a loan from his uncle and began producing bedroom furniture, shipping it as far as Canada.

At the time, furniture-makers profited from cheap labor, which kept the production costs at bay.

Although factory jobs offered low, often unfair wages, they were preferable to the alternative jobs of the time – working outdoors in fields or mines. The first workers in Basset’s factory worked for only five cents per hour!

African-American workers were a cheap source of labor, having been freed from slavery only half a century prior and still subject to discrimination, alienation and unequal treatment.

Until 1933, the Basset Factory was one of the few that hired black workers, albeit at a fraction of the hourly wage given to their white counterparts. In any case, employing cheap labor allowed the Basset family to produce at a lower cost than its competitors.

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