GooglePast is prologue, so they say. In 1903, as chocolate magnate Milton Hershey was preparing to build his new, utopian town of Hershey, Pa., he declared it would be a place with "no poverty, no nuisances, no evil."

Down through the decades, an echo reverberates: "Don't be evil," instruct Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders and masterminds of Google (GOOG).

Perhaps it's no coincidence, then, that the search-engine behemoth seems on the verge of constructing its own model company town. The Silicon Valley Mercury News recently described Google's plans for a new corporate campus located within NASA's Ames Research Center, not far from its current Googleplex headquarters in Mountain View. The new Google-works will include employee housing and add another 1.2 million square feet to the company's already considerable real estate holdings, currently estimated by the Mercury News to be 4 million square feet.

The Mercury News also notes that Google is encouraging the city of Mountain View to transform the area around the Googleplex, adding more housing and retail establishments.

Beyond Tar-Paper Shacks

Google is tight-lipped about such efforts. But its motivation is likely similar to that of the many company-town builders who have gone before. If workers live nearby, they won't shrink from working longer hours. If residences are nice, perhaps even coming with subsidized pricing, and if there are lots of nearby amenities, new, skilled employees can be drawn to work for the company and are likely to want to stick around.

Hershey's (HSY) sturdy, single-family houses came equipped with such novelties as indoor plumbing, central heating and free landscaping -- quite a contrast to the tar-paper shacks that characterized coal towns and to the long, ugly rows of cell-block-like dwellings found in such steel towns as Braddock, Pa. The chocolate company provided land for schools, set up a junior college with free tuition and provided workers with pensions, insurance and medical benefits.

In remote Morenci, Ariz., copper-mining giant Phelps Dodge built hundreds of new housing units in the 1940s and equipped its wholly owned town with such amenities as a 52-bed hospital, a baseball park and swimming pool, a hotel and an elaborate general store.

And high-tech glassmaker Corning (GLW) has long functioned as the guardian angel for the upstate town of Corning, N.Y. In the 1940s, it began contributing millions to help build a new library, apartments and recreation facilities. In 1972, major flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Agnes pushed the Chemung River over its banks, devastating the downtown and leaving 6,000 homeless. Corning bailed out the village and soon erected a spiffy new headquarters and a refurbished Corning Museum of Glass.

"It's Good Business"

Reflecting on the company's motivations for all this, former Chairman James Houghton told me in 2009: "What we're doing in Corning is totally in our self-interest. It's good business." The spiffy town -- a convenient tourist stopping point between New York City and Niagara Falls -- makes for good relations with the consuming public and with a skilled and in-demand workforce.

Is there a downside for companies in such developments? The term "company town" seems to carry a negative connotation, and some corporate public-relations folks mightn't be pleased to hear it associated with their companies.

More significantly, even the most idealistic such experiments haven't always been blessed with happy endings. Over a century ago, railroad sleeping-car mogul George Pullman created an elaborate model town named for himself on the outskirts of Chicago. Living there, he felt, would have an "ennobling and refining" effect on his workers. Instead, Pullman became the focal point of a brutal, nationwide strike that permanently damaged the company's reputation.

With its nap rooms, exercise classes, and free gourmet food, Google's installations hardly seem destined for such high drama. But with town-building goes responsibility. Perhaps the best thing would be for Google to avoid evil.

Green is the author of The Company Town: The Industrial Edens and Satanic Mills That Shaped the American Economy (Basic Books).

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Nita Hurley

Hello to all on Google from nita michael Amersham. England Bucks

April 21 2013 at 7:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hello Mono

Towns entrances say: WELCOME to Google Town "Where it is still Leagal to Giggle !!! :-)

November 22 2010 at 11:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The hidden benefit for a corporate owner is a captive populace who will toe the line more easily. I went to high school in a New England mill town that owned the fire dept and ambulance into the mid-sixties. If you worked for "the shop" you lived in their houses, got food from their stores and visited their doctors. If you lost your job, you lost everything. You learned to be an obedient fool.

November 22 2010 at 11:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So Google wants to recreate the old company Towns of the Coal mining era,Where the higher up in the Company you are the bigger and better House you have the more inportant you are in the Town.What if for some reason you decide to quit do you become a outcast whom others want to see move away so another Compnay man can get the House.Yes it maybe a great Idea .But I think in the Long Run it will give the Company control of your Life don't dare take a sick day and be seen watching your kids sports game.It is sure to be noted by someone who will be in a hurry to report it.There have been Company Towns thur out the History of the United States most have faded into dust not like the companys who made Billions off of the people who lived in those Towns.No matter how much money and how good the conditions when you live in a company town the Company Owns you and everyone in your Family.

November 22 2010 at 10:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Actually, I think it would be a great idea for some regions that have been hit economically. It would be a way to attract bright and talented young professionals. If the company had a minimum commitment of 5 years from people who signed on, I think it is a win/win for everyone! The American auto industry should consider such measures to gain back much of the talent that has gone elsewhere.

November 22 2010 at 9:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Solid Wall

Next, The Stepford Employees.

November 22 2010 at 9:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Google should look at Singapore and emulate its success story.

November 22 2010 at 3:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Doesn't sound a whole lot different than what "The Prez" and Dems are promoting in DC. We all work for the Government, and in return we get to live in a Gov. financed house, put & take our money in a Gov. owned bank, get our Health Care from the Gov, buy a car from a Gov. run auto company, send our kids to Gov. schools (paid for with Gov loans), have the Gov. tell us what we can and can't do in our private lives, and on and on and on. If it doesn't stop soon, we will all end up "Owing more than our souls to the Company(Government) Store".

November 21 2010 at 11:30 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to intowndallas's comment

Wow, I don't know what country you live in, but in my US I can chose to rent or own, my loan will be a conventional loans (have been for all my homes in the last 40 years), I select my insurance carrier and pay outrageous health care premiums so help their enormouns profits, I chose what model car I can buy - including a foreign model, I pay for public schools on the local level that has nothing to do with DC, I even pay additionally for private school tuition as that was my choice, the Government doesn't tell me if I can have an abortion or be a gay person or that I have to be Christian, you are the one telling everyone else how to live and want government to enforce your agenda. As long as we keep your kind of people out of office, we have the exact same freedoms as my parents and grandparents...they just had to work harder than we do.

November 22 2010 at 5:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow! Big Deal! Nortel was going to do the same thing and then John Roth screwed over the share holders and employees. Now look where that company is! No where and millions of dollars lost along their way out.

November 21 2010 at 10:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It looks like he is not money hungry. It is the main reason he donated the money to Bill Gate Foundation(30 Billion). I feel that the nothing wrong to be rich as they make other people rich. In india Relaince Industry and Infosys made so many shareholder and people rich. Here microsft, Intel all the startup made so many people rich.

November 21 2010 at 8:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply