Benham, Ky., in the heart of Harlan County, is a quiet place with a proud sign that has been amended over time to read, “Benham, the little town that International Harvester, coal miners and their families built.”
International Harvester, a farm-equipment conglomerate created by industrial speculator J.P. Morgan, bought up Benham’s land and mineral rights soon after the turn of the century in order to supply Wisconsin steelworks with Appalachia’s high-quality coal.
All at once, a trappers’ and hunters’ hamlet became a churning coal-camp town. International Harvester designed the streets, built the houses, attracted the workers, and ran the coal north by rail. Miners were paid good wages when there was work (especially later, when workers were unionized), but most of the workers’ cash went straight back to International Harvester — which owned the two-story department store, the cinema, the hospital, the power company, and every significant business in town.
Half a century later, new machines ... Read more