Florence Wagon Works

Life at The Wagon Works


The "Light-Running Florence," put the Florence Wagon Works on the industrial map of northwest Alabama. Spurred on by the success of its namesake product, the company grew exponentially in the late 1800s, morphing into a miniature town within a decade. The following page will examine that transformation from a small industrial complex to a company town.

Pictured here is a portrait of Dr. Alfred David Bellamy. Bellamy moved his successful wagon manufacturing company from Atlanta to Florence in 1889, during Florence's industrial boom. (Courtesy, Florence-Lauderdale Public Library.)


Wagon Works Company Town


By the late 1890s, the Florence Wagon Works produced an average of 6,000 wagons per year. This total later increased to 15,000 as production ramped up at the turn of the twentieth century. Around this time, the wagon works complex itself was also rapidly changing as its number of employees fluctuated. After a severe loss of employees -- down to only 75 -- in 1892, the workforce increased gradually between 1893 and 1907. At its height, Florence Wagon Works had 250 employees. Factory infrastructure grew concurrently with its labor pool. Before long, the Florence Wagon Works site featured company housing, a fire brigade and water tower, commissary, brass band, local newsletter, YMCA, library, and Sunday school.


However, these amenities were not shared equally by the wagon works employees. Black workers lived in segregated company housing and worked segregated jobs at the factory proper. White workers occupied roles at every level, from manual labor to management and finance. Conversely, factory administrators typically relegated their black coworkers to manual labor. Religious institutions likewise served two different demographics. According to former wagon works employees, white patrons frequented churches close to the factory’s boundaries; black patrons attended those farther afield. The Smithsonian Institution and its associated magazine offer more information on company towns and the history and development of transportation in America.