A Company Family, A Company Town
No company has left more of a mark on North Adams than Sprague Electric. To many older residents, the golden age of Sprague was also the golden age of North Adams. Look no further than this city for just how important a company can become to a community.
Any industry can make and break a town, which is what Sprague Electric did when it moved into North Adams, Massachusetts in 1930. Sprague Electrics was the single largest employer in North Adams at one time, had its own newsletter, and sponsored everything from sports teams to scholarships. It was a given that if you worked for Sprague you may find your neighbors, friends, and family there with you.
This was all thanks to one man: Robert C. Sprague, owner and president of Sprague Electric, who very purposefully created a stable, almost family-like image for his company. From the 1940s to the 1960s the company flourished and for all intents and purposes, so did North Adams. Average pay for factory workers in the twentieth century was not very high and Sprague’s pay was higher than the industry average. The cost of living during this time period being so low and the friendly atmosphere Sprague maintained made the company attractive to many people. In fact, Sprague Electrics would not experience significant labor unrest until the 1970s, when the low wages failed to keep up with changing costs and workers became more and more dissatisfied with new management.
During the 1940s, when America entered World War II, R.C. Sprague worked hard to cement his company’s place in the town. The Sprague Log, a company newsletter, was already up and running by then but took off during this time period. It combined a focus on company activities and the worker’s own lives into one paper, therefore becoming just as important to daily life as the actual town newspaper was. It contained, among other things, sports statistics, birth and marriage announcements, and letters from soldiers.
The Log serves as a source of insight into the Sprague community. Employees joined company bowling teams and competed in inter-departmental games. There were company run science and hobby fairs, where workers showed off their skills and their families. Sprague also sponsored outside sports teams and created a scholarship fund commonly awarded to area students. Other company events included golf tournaments, charity fund raisers, and employee dinners meant to celebrate their work. Robert Sprague’s company was always a part of life in North Adams, one way or another.
The city itself was a busy place because of Sprague. Main Street was packed on both sides with bars, cafes, hotels, and all manner of business to accommodate both residents and visitors. With a regular commuter train in and out of North Adams, it was common to see people stopping by or using their wages to take a trip to the city. Many businesses also relied on the large crowd of workers leaving Sprague for lunch or looking to unwind after a long day.
North Adams, a company town, lost much of its momentum as Sprague itself died. In the 1980s Sprague left the city, the newsletter stopped, sports teams disbanded, and hundreds of residents lost their jobs. Former employees still feel the lack of Sprague’s presence today, reminiscing on a very different North Adams from the one we know now A single company’s presence can make a community and North Adams is a living reminder of this fact.