Robert Owen

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Robert Owen
Robert Owen by William Henry Brooke.jpg
Owen, aged about 50,
by William Henry Brooke
Born(1771-05-14)14 May 1771
Died17 November 1858(1858-11-17) (aged 87)
Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales
OccupationCo-operator; social reformer, textile mill co-owner; philanthropic capitalist
Spouse(s)Ann (or Anne) Caroline Dale
ChildrenJackson Dale (b. 1799)
Robert Dale (b. 1801)
William (b. 1802)
Ann (or Anne) Caroline (b. 1805)
Jane Dale (b. 1805)
David Dale (b. 1807)
Richard Dale (b. 1809)
Mary (b. 1810)
Parent(s)Robert Owen and Anne (Williams) Owen [1]

Robert Owen ( /ˈɪn/ ; 14 May 1771 – 17 November 1858) was a Welsh textile manufacturer, philanthropic social reformer, and one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. Owen is best known for his efforts to improve the working conditions of his factory workers and his promotion of experimental socialistic communities. In the early 1800s Owen became wealthy as an investor and eventual manager of a large textile mill at New Lanark, Scotland. He initially trained as a draper in Stamford, Lincolnshire, and worked in London before relocating at the age of 18 to Manchester and going into business as a textile manufacturer. In 1824, Owen travelled to America, where he invested the bulk of his fortune in an experimental socialistic community at New Harmony, Indiana, the preliminary model for Owen's utopian society. The experiment was short-lived, lasting about two years. Other Owenite utopian communities met a similar fate. In 1828, Owen returned to the United Kingdom and settled in London, where he continued to be an advocate for the working class. In addition to his leadership in the development of cooperatives and the trade union movement, he also supported passage of child labour laws and free, co-educational schools.

Welsh people nation and ethnic group native to Wales

The Welsh are a Celtic nation and ethnic group native to, or otherwise associated with, Wales, Welsh culture, Welsh history and the Welsh language. Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom, and the majority of people living in Wales are British citizens.

Utopian socialism is a label used to define the first currents of modern socialist thought as exemplified by the work of Henri de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier, Étienne Cabet and Robert Owen.

Cooperative autonomous association of persons

A cooperative is "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise". Cooperatives may include:


Early life and education

Baptism record of Robert Owen in the Newtown Parish Register Newtown Parish Register for births with an entry for Robert Owen, born June 12th 1771 (1294584).jpg
Baptism record of Robert Owen in the Newtown Parish Register

Robert Owen was born in Newtown, a small market town in Montgomeryshire, Wales, on 14 May 1771, to Anne (Williams) and Robert Owen. His father was a saddler, ironmonger, and local postmaster; his mother was the daughter of a Newtown farming family. Young Robert was the sixth of the family's seven children, two of whom died at a young age. His surviving siblings were William, Anne, John, and Richard. [1] [2]

Newtown, Powys town in Wales

Newtown, the largest town in the county of Powys, Wales, lies on the River Severn in the community of Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn, within the historic boundaries of Montgomeryshire. It was designated a new town in 1967 and saw large population growth as firms settled, changing its market town character. Its 2001 population of 12,783 eased to 11,357 at the 2011 census. It is known as the birthplace of Robert Owen in 1771, whose house stood on the present site of the HSBC Bank. The town has a theatre, Theatr Hafren, and a public gallery, Oriel Davies, displaying contemporary arts and crafts.

Montgomeryshire historic county of Wales

Montgomeryshire, also known as Maldwyn is one of thirteen historic counties and a former administrative county of Wales. It is named after its county town, Montgomery, which in turn is named after one of William the Conqueror's main counsellors, Roger de Montgomerie, who was the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury.

Saddle supportive structure for a rider or other load, fastened to an animals back by a girth

The saddle is a supportive structure for a rider or other load, fastened to an animal's back by a girth. The most common type is the equestrian saddle designed for a horse. However, specialized saddles have been created for oxen, camels and other creatures. It is not known precisely when riders first began to use some sort of padding or protection, but a blanket attached by some form of surcingle or girth was probably the first "saddle", followed later by more elaborate padded designs. The solid saddle tree was a later invention, and though early stirrup designs predated the invention of the solid tree. The paired stirrup, which attached to the tree, was the last element of the saddle to reach the basic form that is still used today. Today, modern saddles come in a wide variety of styles, each designed for a specific equestrianism discipline, and require careful fit to both the rider and the horse. Proper saddle care can extend the useful life of a saddle, often for decades. The saddle was a crucial step in the increased use of domesticated animals, during the Classical Era.

Owen received little formal education, but he was an avid reader. He left school at the age of ten and was apprenticed to a Stamford, Lincolnshire, draper for four years. He also worked in London draper shops as a teenager. [3] [4] Around the age of eighteen, Owen moved to Manchester, where he spent the next twelve years of his life. Initially, he was employed at Satterfield's Drapery in Saint Ann's Square. [5] [6]

Stamford, Lincolnshire town in Lincolnshire, England

Stamford is a town on the River Welland in Lincolnshire, England, 92 miles (148 km) north of London on the A1. The population at the 2011 census was 19,701. The town has 17th and 18th-century stone buildings, older timber-framed buildings and five medieval parish churches. In 2013, Stamford was rated the best place to live in a survey by The Sunday Times.

Draper cloth merchant

Draper was originally a term for a retailer or wholesaler of cloth that was mainly for clothing. A draper may additionally operate as a cloth merchant or a haberdasher.

While living in Manchester, Owen borrowed £100 from his brother, William, to enter into a partnership to make spinning mules, a new invention for spinning cotton thread, but exchanged his share of the business within a few months for six spinning mules that he operated in a rented factory space. [7] In 1792, when Owen was about twenty-one years old, mill-owner Peter Drinkwater made him manager of the Piccadilly Mill at Manchester; however, after two years of working for Drinkwater, Owen voluntarily gave up a contracted promise of partnership, left the company, and went into partnership with other entrepreneurs to establish and eventually manage the Chorlton Twist Mills in the Chorlton-on-Medlock area of Manchester. [8] [9]

Spinning mule machine used to spin cotton and other fibres

The spinning mule is a machine used to spin cotton and other fibres. They were used extensively from the late 18th to the early 20th century in the mills of Lancashire and elsewhere. Mules were worked in pairs by a minder, with the help of two boys: the little piecer and the big or side piecer. The carriage carried up to 1,320 spindles and could be 150 feet (46 m) long, and would move forward and back a distance of 5 feet (1.5 m) four times a minute. It was invented between 1775 and 1779 by Samuel Crompton. The self-acting (automatic) mule was patented by Richard Roberts in 1825. At its peak there were 50,000,000 mule spindles in Lancashire alone. Modern versions are still in niche production and are used to spin woollen yarns from noble fibres such as cashmere, ultra-fine merino and alpaca for the knitware market.

Peter Drinkwater was an English cotton manufacturer and merchant.

Piccadilly Mill, also known as Bank Top Mill or Drinkwater's Mill, owned by Peter Drinkwater, was the first cotton mill in Manchester, England, to be directly powered by a steam engine, and the 10th such mill in the world. Construction of the four-storey mill on Auburn Street started in 1789 and its 8 hp Boulton and Watt engine was installed and working by 1 May 1790. Initially the engine drove only the preparatory equipment and spinning was done manually. The mill-wright was Thomas Lowe, who had worked for William Fairbairn and helped with the planning two of Arkwright's earliest factories.

By the early 1790s, Owen's entrepreneurial spirit, management skills, and progressive moral views were emerging. In 1793, he was elected as a member of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, [9] where the ideas of reformers and philosophers of the Enlightenment were discussed. He also became a committee member of the Manchester Board of Health, which was instigated, principally by Thomas Percival, to promote improvements in the health and working conditions of factory workers. [10] [11]

The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, popularly known as the Lit & Phil, is a learned society in Manchester, England.

Reformation Schism within the Christian Church in the 16th-century

The Reformation was a movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe that posed a religious and political challenge to the Roman Catholic church – and papal authority in particular. Although the Reformation is usually considered to have started with the publication of the Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517, there was no schism between the Catholics and the nascent Lutheran branch until the 1521 Edict of Worms. The edict condemned Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas. The end of the Reformation era is disputed: it could be considered to end with the enactment of the confessions of faith which began the Age of Orthodoxy. Other suggested ending years relate to the Counter-Reformation, the Peace of Westphalia, or that it never ended since there are still Protestants today.

Age of Enlightenment European cultural movement of the 18th century

The Age of Enlightenment was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, the "Century of Philosophy".

Marriage and family

Robert Owen's house in New Lanark, Scotland. Robert Owen's House, New Lanark.jpg
Robert Owen's house in New Lanark, Scotland.

During a visit to Scotland, Owen met and fell in love with Ann (or Anne) Caroline Dale, the daughter of David Dale, a Glasgow philanthropist and the proprietor of New Lanark Mills, a large textile mill in New Lanark, Scotland. Robert and Caroline Owen were married on 30 September 1799. Following their marriage, the Owens established their home in New Lanark, but later moved to Braxfield, Scotland. [9] [12] [13]

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

David Dale Scottish merchant

David Dale (1739–1806) was a leading Scottish industrialist, merchant and philanthropist during the Scottish Enlightenment period at the end of the 18th century. He was a successful entrepreneur in a number of areas, most notably in the cotton-spinning industry and was the founder of the world famous cotton mills in New Lanark, where he provided social and educational conditions far in advance of anything available anywhere else in the UK. Scotland’s leading historian, Professor Sir Tom Devine, described Dale as ‘the greatest cotton magnate of his time in Scotland’.

Glasgow City and council area in Scotland

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and the third most populous city in the United Kingdom, as of the 2017 estimated city population of 621,020. Historically part of Lanarkshire, the city now forms the Glasgow City council area, one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the local authority is Glasgow City Council. Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde in the country's West Central Lowlands. Inhabitants of the city are referred to as "Glaswegians" or "Weegies". It is the fourth most visited city in the UK. Glasgow is also known for the Glasgow patter, a distinct dialect of the Scots language that is noted for being difficult to understand by those from outside the city.

Robert and Caroline Owen had eight children, the first of whom died in infancy. Their seven surviving children included four sons and three daughters: Robert Dale (1801–77), William (1802–42), Ann (or Anne) Caroline (1805–31), Jane Dale (1805–61), David Dale (1807–60), Richard Dale (1809–90) and Mary (1810–32). [9] [4] [14] Owen's four sons, Robert Dale, William, David Dale, and Richard, as well as his daughter, Jane Dale, followed their father to the United States, becoming U.S. citizens and permanent residents of New Harmony, Indiana. Owen's wife, Caroline, and two of their daughters, Anne Caroline and Mary, remained in Britain, where they died in the 1830s. [15] [16]

New Lanark textile mill

In July 1799 Owen and his partners bought the New Lanark mill from David Dale, and Owen became the New Lanark mill's manager in January 1800. [9] [12] Encouraged by his success in the management of cotton mills in Manchester, Owen hoped to conduct the New Lanark mill on higher principles than purely commercial ones. David Dale and Richard Arkwright had established the substantial mill at New Lanark in 1785. With its water power provided by the falls of the River Clyde, the cotton-spinning operation became one of Britain's largest. About 2,000 individuals were associations with the mill; 500 of them were children who were brought to the mill at the age of five or six from the poorhouses and charities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Dale, who was known for his benevolence, treated the children well, but the general condition of New Lanark's residents was unsatisfactory. Over the years, Dale and his son-in-law, Owen, worked to improve the factory workers' lives. [17] [18]

Many of the workers were in the lowest levels of the population; theft, drunkenness, and other vices were common; education and sanitation were neglected; and most families lived in one room. The respectable country people refused to submit to the long hours and demoralising drudgery of the mills. [19]

Truck system of payment by order of Robert Owen and Benj Woolfield, National Equitable Labour Exchange, July 22nd 1833. Truck system of payment by order of Robert Owen and Benj Woolfield, July 22nd 1833 (1294620).jpg
Truck system of payment by order of Robert Owen and Benj Woolfield, National Equitable Labour Exchange, July 22nd 1833.

Until a series of Truck Acts (1831–1887) required employees to be paid in common currency, many employers operated the truck system that paid workers in total or in part with tokens. The tokens had no monetary value outside the mill owner's "truck shop," where the owners could supply shoddy goods and charge top prices. [20] In contrast to other employers, Owen's store offered goods at prices slightly above their wholesale cost. [12] He also passed on the savings from the bulk purchase of goods to his workers, and placed the sale of alcohol under strict supervision. These principles became the basis for the cooperative shops in Britain, which continue in an altered form to trade today. [10] [21]

Philosophy and influence

Owen tested his social and economic ideas at New Lanark, where he won the confidence of his workers and continued to have great success due to the improved efficiency at the mill. The community also earned an international reputation. Social reformers, statesmen, and royals, including the future Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, visited New Lanark to study its operations and educational methods. [12] [22] The opinions of many of these visitors were favourable. [23]

Owen's greatest success was his support of youth education and early childcare. As a pioneer of infant care in Britain, especially Scotland, Owen provided an alternative to the "normal authoritarian approach to child education." [24] The manners of the children brought up under his system were beautifully graceful, genial and unconstrained; health, plenty, and contentment prevailed; drunkenness was almost unknown; and illegitimacy extremely rare. Owen's relationship with the workers remained excellent, and all the operations of the mill proceeded with smoothness and regularity. Furthermore, the business was a commercial success. [19] [12]

However, some of Owen's schemes displeased his partners, forcing him to arrange for other investors to buy his share of the business in 1813 for $800,000 (US). [12] The new investors, who included Jeremy Bentham and William Allen, a well-known Quaker, were content to accept a £5000 return on their capital. [19] The ownership change also provided Owen with an opportunity to widen the scope for his philanthropy. He became an advocate for improvements in workers' rights, child labour laws, and free education for children. [12]

In 1813 Owen authored and published A New View of Society, or Essays on the Principle of the Formation of the Human Character, the first of four essays that he wrote to explain the principles behind his reform-minded and socialistic philosophy. [25] Owen had originally been a follower of the classical liberal and utilitarian Jeremy Bentham, who believed that free markets, in particular, the right of workers to move and choose their employers, would release the workers from the excessive power of capitalists. However, Owen developed his own, pro-socialist outlook. In addition, Owen, a deist, criticised organised religion, including the Church of England, and developed a belief system of his own. [26] [27]

Owen felt that human character is formed by circumstances over which individuals have no control. As a result, individuals cannot be praised or blamed for their behaviour or situation in life. This principle led Owen to the conclude that the secret behind the correct formation of people's characters is to place them under proper environmental influences – physical, moral and social – from their earliest years. These notions of the irresponsibility of humans and of the effect of early influences on an individual's character formed the basis of Owen's system of education and social reform. [28]

Relying on his own observations, experiences, and thoughts, Owen considered his view of human nature to be original and "the most basic and necessary constituent in an evolving science of society. " [29] Owen's philosophy was influenced by Sir Isaac Newton's views on natural law, and his views resembled those of Plato, Denis Diderot, Claude Adrien Helvétius, William Godwin, John Locke, James Mill, and Jeremy Bentham, among others. Owen did not have the direct influence of Enlightenment philosophers. [29] [30]

Owen's work at New Lanark continued to have significance throughout Britain and in continental Europe. He was a "pioneer in factory reform, the father of distributive cooperation, and the founder of nursery schools." [4] His schemes for the education of his workers included the opening of the Institute for the Formation of Character at New Lanark in 1818. The institute and other educational programmes at New Lanark provided free education from infancy to adulthood. [25] [9] In addition, he zealously supported factory legislation that culminated in the Cotton Mills and Factories Act of 1819. Owen also had interviews and communications with the leading members of the British government, including its premier, Robert Banks Jenkinson, and Lord Liverpool. Owen met with many of the rulers and leading statesmen of Europe. [31] [32]

Owen also adopted new principles to raise the standard of goods his workers produced. A cube with faces painted in different colours was installed above each machinist's workplace. The colour of the face showed to everyone who saw it the quality and quantity of goods the worker completed. The intent was to provide incentives to workers to do their best. Although it was not a great incentive by itself, the conditions at New Lanark for the workers and their families were idyllic for the time. [32] [31]

Eight-hour day

Owen raised the demand for an eight-hour day in 1810, and instituted the policy at New Lanark. By 1817 he had formulated the goal of the eight-hour workday and coined the slogan: "Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest." [33]

Models for socialism (1817)

A statue commemorating Owen in Manchester, in front of The Co-operative Bank. Robert Owen Statue, Balloon Street, Manchester.jpg
A statue commemorating Owen in Manchester, in front of The Co-operative Bank.

Owen embraced socialism in 1817, a turning point in his life, and began making specific efforts to implement what he described as his "New View of Society." [18] Owen outlined his position in a report to the committee of the House of Commons regarding the country's Poor Laws. [34] In addition, when misery and trade stagnation after the Napoleonic Wars were capturing the attention of the country, the British government invited Owen to offer his advice on what could be done to alleviate the industrial concerns. Although Owen attributed the immediate causes of misery to the wars, he also argued that the underlying cause of distress was the competition of human labour with machinery and recommended the establishment of self-sufficient communities. [4]

Owen proposed that communities of about 1,200 people should be settled on land from 1,000 to 1,500 acres (405 to 607 ha), with all of them living in one large building that had a public kitchen and dining halls. (The size of his proposed community is likely to have been influenced by the size of the village of New Lanark.) Owen also recommended that each family should have its own private apartments and the responsibility for the care of their children until they reached the age of three. Thereafter, children would be raised by the community-at-large, but their parents would have access to them at mealtimes and on other occasions. Owen further suggested that these socialistic communities might be established by individuals, parishes, counties, or other governmental units. In every case there would be effective supervision by qualified persons. The work and the enjoyment of its results should be experienced communally. Owen believed that his idea would be the best form for the re-organisation of society in general. [19] [31] He called his vision for a socialistic utopia the "New Moral World." [25]

Owen's utopian model changed little during his lifetime. His fully developed model considered an association of 500 to 3,000 people as the optimum number for a good working community. While mainly agricultural, it would possess the best machinery, offer a variety of employment, and, as far as possible, be self-contained. Owen further explained that as the number of these communities increased, "unions of them federatively united shall be formed in circle of tens, hundreds and thousands" [35] linked in a common interest.

Arguments against Robert Owen and his answers

Owen always tried to spread his ideas to wider communities. First of all, he started publishing his ideas in newspapers. Owen then sent these newspapers to parliamentarians, politicians all over the country, and other important people. The first negative reactions to his ideas appeared after these newspaper articles were published.

The opponents of Owen’s ideas thought that Owen’s plans would result in an uncontrollable increase in population and poverty. The other main criticism stated that Owen’s plan and the common use of everything would essentially make the country one large workshop. William Hone claimed that Owen saw people as unravelled plants from his roots, and that he wanted to plant them into rectangles. Another spokesman accused Owen of wanting to imprison people in workshops like barracks and eradicate their personal independence.

Owen’s opponents had begun to regard him as an enemy of religion. His influence with the ruling circles, which he had hoped would help him to accomplish his “Plan”, started diminishing and rumours about his lack of religious conviction spread. Owen believed that, unless a change can be made in the character of the individuals and the environment in which they live, these people will be hostile to those around them. As long as such a social order is perpetuated, the positive aspects of Christianity can never be put into practice. Owen also considered it necessary to give people more freedom in order to improve the situation of the poor and working classes. Unless people are better educated, unless they gain more useful information and have permanent employment, they are a danger to the security of the state when given more freedom than the British Constitution of the time. Without having to make any changes in the national institutions, he believed that even merely reorganizing the working classes would result in great benefits. Owen was thus opposed to the views of radicals who wanted to bring about a change in the public's mentality through the expansion of voting rights. [36]

Community experiments in America and Britain

New Moral World, Owen's envisioned successor of New Harmony. Owenites fired bricks to build it, but it was never constructed. New harmony vision.jpg
New Moral World, Owen's envisioned successor of New Harmony. Owenites fired bricks to build it, but it was never constructed.

To test the viability of his ideas for self-sufficient working communities, Owen began experiments in communal living in America in 1825. Among the most famous of these was the one established at New Harmony, Indiana. [4] Of the 130 identifiable communitarian experiments in America before the American Civil War, at least sixteen were Owenite or Owenite-influenced communities. New Harmony was Owen's earliest and most ambitious experiment. [23]

Owen and his son, William, sailed to America in October 1824 to establish an experimental community in Indiana. [37] In January 1825 Owen used a portion of his own funds to finalise the purchase of an existing town that included 180 buildings and several thousand acres of land along the Wabash River in Indiana. (In 1824 George Rapp's Harmony Society, the religious group that owned the property and had founded the communal village of Harmony (or Harmonie) on the site in 1814, decided to relocate to Pennsylvania.) Owen renamed it New Harmony and established the village as his preliminary model for a utopian community. [25] [38] [39]

Owen attempted to gain support for his socialist vision among American thinkers, reformers, intellectuals, and public statesmen. On 25 February and 7 March 1825, Owen delivered addresses in the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Congress and others in the U.S. government that outlined his vision and plans for the utopian community at New Harmony, Indiana, as well as his socialist beliefs. [25] [40] The audience to hear his ideas included three former U.S. presidents (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison), in addition to outgoing U.S. president James Monroe, and president-elect John Quincy Adams. [41] His meetings were possibly the first discussions about socialism in the Americas; they were certainly a major step towards the beginnings of discussions about socialist thought in the United States. Owenism, among the first socialist ideologies active in the United States, is considered the starting-point of the modern Socialist movement in the United States. [20] [19]

Owen convinced William Maclure, a wealthy scientist, philanthropist, and Scot who was living in Philadelphia to join him at New Harmony. Maclure became Owen's financial partner. Maclure's involvement in the project subsequently attracted scientists, educators, and artists such as Thomas Say, Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, and Madame Marie Duclos Fretageot, among others. These individuals helped to establish the utopian community at New Harmony as a centre for educational reform, scientific research, and artistic expression. [25] [42]

Although he intended to build a "Village of Unity and Mutual Cooperation" south of town, his grand plan was never fully realised, and Owen returned to Britain to continue his work. During his long absences from New Harmony, Owen left the experiment under the day-to-day management of his sons, Robert Dale Owen and William Owen, and his business partner, Maclure. The New Harmony communal experiment proved to be an economic failure, lasting about two years, but it attracted more than a thousand residents by the end of its first year. The socialistic society was dissolved in 1827; however, many of the town's scientists, educators, and artists, and other inhabitants, including Owen's four sons, Robert Dale, William, David Dale, and Richard Dale Owen, and his daughter, Jane Dale Owen Fauntleroy, resided at New Harmony after the social experiment ended. [9] [25] [42]

Other utopian experiments in the United States included communal settlements at Blue Spring, near Bloomington, Indiana; Yellow Springs, Ohio; and the Owenite community of Forestville Commonwealth at Earlton, New York, as well as other projects in New York, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Nearly all of these experiments ended before New Harmony was dissolved in April 1827. [43] [44]

Owen's utopian communities attracted a mix of people, many of whom had the highest aims; however, their members also included vagrants, adventurers, and crotchety, and other reform-minded enthusiasts. In the words of Owen's son, David Dale Owen, the communities attracted "a heterogeneous collection of Radicals", "enthusiastic devotees to principle," and "honest latitudinarians, and lazy theorists," with "a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in." [45]

Josiah Warren, one of the participants at New Harmony, asserted that community was doomed to failure due to a lack of individual sovereignty and personal property. In describing the Owenite community, Warren explained: "We had a world in miniature — we had enacted the French revolution over again with despairing hearts instead of corpses as a result. ... It appeared that it was nature's own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us ... our "united interests" were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation ..." [46] Warren's observations on the reasons for the community's failure led to the development of American individualist anarchism, of which he was its original theorist. [47] Some historians have attributed the demise of the New Harmony experiment to a series of disagreements among its members. [48]

Social experiments also began in Scotland in 1825, when Abram Combe, an Owenite disciple, attempted the development of a utopian experiment at Orbiston, near Glasgow, but the project failed after a trial of about two years. [49] In the 1830s additional experiments in socialistic cooperatives were made in Ireland and Britain. The most important of these were that at Ralahine, established in 1831 in County Clare, Ireland, and at Tytherley, begun in 1839 in Hampshire, England. The former proved a remarkable success for three-and-a-half years until the proprietor, having ruined himself by gambling, had to sell his interest in the enterprise. Tytherley, known as Harmony Hall, or Queenwood College, was designed by the architect Joseph Hansom. [50] It also failed.

Return to Britain

Portrait of Owen by John Cranch, 1845 Portrait of Robert Owen (1771 - 1858) by John Cranch, 1845.jpg
Portrait of Owen by John Cranch, 1845

Although Owen made brief visits to the United States, London became his permanent home and the centre of his activities in 1828. After an extended period of friction with William Allen and some of his other business partners, Owen relinquished all of connections to New Lanark. [9] [48] He is often quoted as comment Allen at the time, "All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou art a little queer". [51] Having invested most of his personal fortune in the failed New Harmony communal experiment, Owen was no longer a wealthy capitalist; however, he remained the head of a vigorous propaganda effort to promote industrial equality, free education for children, and adequate living conditions in factory towns. In addition, he delivered lectures in Europe and published a weekly newspaper to gain support for his ideas. [48]

In 1832 Owen opened the National Equitable Labour Exchange system, [9] [52] a time-based currency in which the exchange of goods was effected by means of labour notes; this system superseded the usual means of exchange and middlemen. The London exchange continued until 1833; a Birmingham branch operated for only a few months until July 1833. [53] Owen also became involved in trade unionism. He briefly served as the leader of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union (GNCTU) before its collapse in 1834. [9]

Socialism first became current in British terminology in the discussions of the Association of all Classes of all Nations, which Owen formed in 1835 [54] and served as its initial leader. [55] Owen's secular views also gained enough influence among the working classes to cause the Westminster Review to comment in 1839 that his principles were the actual creed of a great portion of them. [56] [31] However, by 1846, the only long-lasting result of Owen's agitation for social change, carried on through public meetings, pamphlets, periodicals, and occasional treatises, remained the co-operative movement, and for a time even that seemed to have utterly collapsed. [19] [31] [20]

Role in spiritualism

Tomb of Robert Owen, Newtown, Powys Tomb of Robert Owen (1771-1858) - - 661997.jpg
Tomb of Robert Owen, Newtown, Powys

In 1817, Owen publicly claimed that all religions were false. [57] In 1854, at the age of 83, Owen converted to spiritualism after a series of sittings with Maria B. Hayden, the American medium who is credited with introducing spiritualism to England. Owen made a public profession of his new faith in his publication The Rational Quarterly Review and in The future of the Human race; or great glorious and future revolution to be effected through the agency of departed spirits of good and superior men and women, a pamphlet that he also wrote. [58]

Owen claimed to have had mediumistic contact with the spirits of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others. He explained that the purpose of these communications was to change "the present, false, disunited and miserable state of human existence, for a true, united and happy state ... to prepare the world for universal peace, and to infuse into all the spirit of charity, forbearance and love." [59]

Spiritualists have claimed that after Owen's death his spirit dictated to the medium Emma Hardinge Britten in 1871 the "Seven Principles of Spiritualism," which the Spiritualists' National Union used as "the basis of its religious philosoply." [60]

Later years

As Owen grew older and more radical in his views, his influence began to decline. [48] Owen published his memoirs, The Life of Robert Owen (1857), a year prior to his death. [9]

Death and legacy

Crowds of locals gather to commemorate Robert Owen at his grave in Newtown, 1890s Crowd of people congregated by the grave of Robert Owen at the old parish church, Newtown (1293839).jpg
Crowds of locals gather to commemorate Robert Owen at his grave in Newtown, 1890s

Although he had spent the majority of his life in England and Scotland, Owen returned to his native village of Newtown at the end of his life. He died at Newtown on 17 November 1858, and was buried there on 21 November. With the exception of an annual income drawn from a trust established by his sons in 1844, Owen died penniless. [9] [4] [61]

Owen was a reformer, philanthropist, community builder, and spiritualist who spent his adult life seeking to improve the lives of others. An advocate of the working class, he improved working conditions of factory workers, which he successfully demonstrated at New Lanark, Scotland; became a leader in trade unionism; promoted social equality through his experimental utopian communities; and supported passage of child labour laws and free education for children. [48]

Owen was ahead of his time as a social reformer. He offered his vision for a communal society that others could consider and apply as they wished. [62] In Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race (1849), Owen further elaborated that character is formed by a combination of Nature or God and the circumstances of the individual's experience. [63] Citing the beneficial results achieved at New Lanark, Scotland, during his thirty years of work in the community, Owen concluded that a person's "character is not made by, but for the individual," [64] and that nature and society are responsible for each person's character and conduct. [65]

Owen's agitation for social change and the Owenites whose work he inspired, including the efforts of his own children, helped to establish and promote long-lasting social reforms in the area of women's and workers' rights; the establishment of free public libraries and museums; childcare and public, co-educational schools; pre-Marxian communism; and the development of the cooperative and the trade union movement. New Harmony, Indiana, and New Lanark, Scotland, the two towns with which he is most closely associated, remain as lasting reminders of his efforts. [25] [66]

Owen's legacy of public service continued with his four sons, Robert Dale, William, David Dale, and Richard Dale, and his daughter, Jane, who followed him to America to live at New Harmony, Indiana:

Honours and tributes

Robert Owen Memorial, next to The Reformers Memorial, Kensal Green Cemetery, London RobertOwenKensalGreen01.jpg
Robert Owen Memorial, next to The Reformers Memorial, Kensal Green Cemetery, London

Selected published works

Collected works:

Archival collections:

See also


  1. 1 2 Douglas F. Dowd. "Robert Owen". Encyclopædia Britannica (Online academic ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  2. Arthur H. Estabrook (1923). "The Family History of Robert Owen". Indiana Magazine of History. Bloomington: Indiana University. 19 (1): 63, 69. Retrieved 29 August 2017. See also: Frank Podmore (1907). Robert Owen: A Biography. I. New York: D. Appleton and Company. pp. 2, 4.
  3. Estabrook, p. 63; Podmore, pp. 15–17.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Sir James Frederick Rees (2007). "Owen, Robert ( 1771-1858 ), Utopian Socialist". Dictionary of Welsh Biography. National Library of Wales. Retrieved 30 August 2017. (online version)
  5. Podmore, pp. 23, 41.
  6. A memorial plaque marks the firm's location. See "Owen Blue Plaque". 6 February 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  7. Podmore, pp. 42–43.
  8. Podmore, pp. 47–48.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 "Robert Owen Timeline". Robert Owen Museum. 2008. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  10. 1 2 Thornber, Craig. "Thomas Percival, 1740-1804". Chesire Antiquities. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  11. Kimberling, Clark. "Robert Owen (1771-1858) social reformer, founder of New Harmony". University of Evansville. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Estabrook, p. 64.
  13. Robert Dale Owen (1874). Threading My Way, Twenty-seven Years of Autobiography. New York and London: G. W. Carleton and Company; Trubner and Company. p. 56.
  14. Estabrook, pp. 72, 80, 83; Victor Lincoln Albjerg (March 1946). Richard Owen: Scotland 1810, Indiana 1890. The Archives of Purdue, no. 2. Lafayette, Indiana. p. 16. See also: "Richard Owen". Indiana Department of Administration. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  15. 1 2 Estabrook, p. 72.
  16. 1 2 Pitzer, "Why New Harmony is World Famous," in Traces of Indiana and Midwestern Historys, p. 11.
  17. Estabrook, p. 70.
  18. 1 2 John F. C. Harrison, "Robert Owen's Quest for the New Moral World in America," in Donald E. Pitzer, ed. (1972). Robert Owen's American Legacy: Proceedings of the Robert Owen Bicentennial Conference. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. p. 34. OCLC   578923.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 cullen, Alex (1891). "Adventures in Socialism New Lanark establishment and Orbiston community" . Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  20. 1 2 3 Weekes, Richard (2004). The British retail co-operative movement (PDF) (MSa). University of Central Lancashire. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  21. Bloy, Marjie (4 March 2016). "Robert Owen and the Co-operative movement". A web of English History. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  22. Kent Schuette (Spring 2014). "New Harmony, Indiana: Three Great Community Experiments". Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 26 (2): 45.
  23. 1 2 Harrison, "Robert Owen's Quest for the New Moral World in America," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 37.
  24. Harrison, "Robert Owen's Quest for the New Moral World in America, " in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 40.
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair, eds. (2015). Indiana's 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press. pp. 269–70. ISBN   978-0-87195-387-2.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  26. 1 2 Donald E. Pitzer (Spring 2014). "Why New Harmony is World Famous". Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 26 (2): 12.
  27. Ryan Rokicki (Spring 2014). "Science in Utopia: New Harmony's Naturalistic Legacy". Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 26 (2): 52.
  28. Merle Curti, "Robert Owen in American Thought," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 62.
  29. 1 2 Curti, "Robert Owen in American Thought," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 61.
  30. "Panel Discussion," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 85.
  31. 1 2 3 4 5 Dowd, Douglas. "Robert Owen: British Social Reformer". Encyclopedia Britannica . Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  32. 1 2 "Robert Owen". Economist. 31 October 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  33. Ward, Marguerite (3 May 2017). "A brief history of the 8-hour workday, which changed how Americans work". CNBC . Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  34. Owen, Robert (12 March 1817). "To the Chairman of The Committee on the Nation's Poor Laws". University of Texas. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  35. Bloy, Marjie (4 March 2016). "Robert Owen and 'villages of co-operation'". A web of English History. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  36. Aybay, Rona (2005). Sosyalizmin öncülerinden Robert Owen: Yaşamı, öğretisi, eylemi. İstanbul: YKY.
  37. Richard William Leopold (1940). Robert Dale Owen, A Biography. Harvard Historical Studies. 45. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 21. OCLC   774894.
  38. Karl J. R. Arndt (1965). George Rapp's Harmony Society 1785–1847. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 298.
  39. Spiegel, Henry William (1971). The Growth of Economic Thought. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. pp. 441–442.
  40. Estabrook, p. 66. See also:Robert Owen (1840). Manifesto of Robert Owen: The discoverer, Founder, and Promulgator, of the Rational System of Society, and of the Rational Religion. p. 14.
  41. Rowland Hill Harvey (1947). Robert Owen: Social Idealist. University of California Press. pp. 99–100.
  42. 1 2 Amanda S. Bryden and Connie A. Weinzapfel (Spring 2014). "Editors' Page: 'That Wonder of the West'". Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 26 (2): 2. See also: Heather Baldus (Spring 2014). "A Broad Stroke: New Harmony's Artistic Legacy". Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 26 (2): 25.
  43. Roger D. Branigin, "Robert Owen's New Harmony: An American Heritage," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 20.
  44. Forestville Commonwealth was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. See National Park Service (13 March 2009). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service.
  45. Joseph Clayton (1908). Robert Owen: Pioneer of Social Reforms. London: A.C. Fifield.
  46. Warren, Periodical Letter II (1856)
  47. Riggenbach, Jeff (23 February 2011). "Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist". Mises Institute. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  48. 1 2 3 4 5 Estabrook, p. 68.
  49. Garnett, Ronald (1972). Co-operation and the Owenite Socialist Communities in Britain, 1825-45. Manchester University Press.
  50. Harris, Penelope, "The Architectural Achievement of Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-1882), Designer of the Hansom Cab, Birmingham Town Hall, and Churches of the Catholic Revival", The Edwin Mellen Press, 2010, p.75 ISBN   0-7734-3851-3
  51. "1828: Information from". Retrieved 13 July 2009. See also: "Who said this: "all strange but thee and Me" – Literature Network Forums". Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  52. Harrison, "Robert Owen's Quest for the New Moral World in America," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 36.
  53. "Timeline". TUC History Online. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  54. Edward Royle (1998). Robert Owen and the Commencement of the Millennium. Manchester University Press. p. 56. ISBN   0-7190-5426-5.
  55. Harvey, Robert Owen, p. 211.
  56. A. (1839). "A letter to the Earl of Durham on Reform in Parliament, by Paying the Elected". London and Westminster Review. 32: 475–508. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  57. Richard William Leopold, (1940). Robert Dale Owen, A Biography. Harvard Historical Studies. 45. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 8. OCLC   774894.
  58. Lewis Spence (2003). Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Kessinger Publishing Company. p. 679.
  59. Frank Podmore. Robert Owen: A Biography. II. pp. 604–5.
  60. "History of Spiritualism". SNU international. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  61. Leopold, Robert Dale Owen, A Biography, p. 327.
  62. Harrison, "Robert Owen's Quest for the New Moral World in America," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 41.
  63. Robert Owen (1849). Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race, or, The Coming Change from Irrationality to Rationality. London: Effingham Wilson. pp. 1, 9. OCLC   11756751.
  64. Owen, Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race, p. 29. See also: Harrison, "Robert Owen's Quest for the New Moral World in America," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 38.
  65. Owen, Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race, p. 59.
  66. Branigin, "Robert Owen's New Harmony" in Robert Owen's American Legacy, pp. 21–23.
  67. Estabrook, pp. 72–74.
  68. "Owen, Robert Dale (1801–1877)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. U.S. Congress. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  69. "Owen, Robert Dale (1801–1877)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. U.S. Congress. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  70. Pancoast and Lincoln, p. 100.
  71. Estabrook, p. 80.
  72. Leopold, p. 21.
  73. Estabrook, pp. 82–83.
  74. Elinor Pancoast and Anne E. Lincoln (1940). The Incorrigible Idealist: Robert Dale Owen in America. Bloomington, Indiana: Principia Press. p. 25. OCLC   2000563.
  75. Josephine Mirabella Elliott (December 1964). "The Owen Family Papers". Indiana Magazine of History. Bloomington: Indiana University. 60 (4): 343. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  76. Estabrook, pp. 88–89.
  77. 1 2 Leopold, Robert Dale Owen, A Biography, pp. 50–51.
  78. Elliott, pp. 343–44.
  79. Estabrook, pp. 94–95.
  80. Harrison, "Robert Owen's Quest for the New Moral World in America," in Robert Owen's American Legacy, p. 32.
  81. Robert Owen (1818). Two Memorials Behalf of the Working Classes. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.
  82. The collection includes papers and letters as well as pamphlets and books. See "National Co-operative Archive". Archived from the original on 3 October 2006. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  83. The collection includes a letter describing Owen's views and documents related to the New Harmony community. See "New Harmony Collection, 1814-1884, Collection Guide" (pdf). Indiana Historical Society. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  84. Bound records of the New Harmony community. See "New Harmony Series II". Workingmen's Institute. Retrieved 8 September 2017.

Related Research Articles

New Harmony, Indiana Town in Indiana, United States

New Harmony is a historic town on the Wabash River in Harmony Township, Posey County, Indiana. It lies 15 miles (24 km) north of Mount Vernon, the county seat, and is part of the Evansville metropolitan area. The town's population was 789 at the 2010 census.

New Lanark a village located in Scotland, United Kingdom

New Lanark is a village on the River Clyde, approximately 1.4 miles from Lanark, in Lanarkshire, and some 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Glasgow, Scotland. It was founded in 1786 by David Dale, who built cotton mills and housing for the mill workers. Dale built the mills there in a brief partnership with the English inventor and entrepreneur Richard Arkwright to take advantage of the water power provided by the only waterfalls on the River Clyde. Under the ownership of a partnership that included Dale's son-in-law, Robert Owen, a Welsh philanthropist and social reformer, New Lanark became a successful business and an early example of a planned settlement and so an important milestone in the historical development of urban planning.

Robert Dale Owen United States politician

Robert Dale Owen was a Scottish-born social reformer who immigrated to the United States in 1825, became a U.S. citizen, and was active in Indiana politics as member of the Democratic Party in the Indiana House of Representatives and represented Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives (1843–47). As a member of Congress, Owen successfully pushed through the bill that established Smithsonian Institution and served on the Institution's first Board of Regents. Owen also served as a delegate to the Indiana Constitutional Convention in 1850 and was appointed as U.S. chargé d'affaires (1853–58) to Naples.

Owenism is the utopian socialist philosophy of 19th-century social reformer Robert Owen and his followers and successors, who are known as Owenites. Owenism aimed for radical reform of society and is considered a forerunner of the cooperative movement. The Owenite movement undertook several experiments in establishment of utopian communities organized according to communitarian and cooperative principles. One of the best known of these efforts, which were largely unsuccessful, was the project at New Harmony, Indiana, which started in 1825 and was abandoned by 1829. Owenism is also closely associated with the development of the British trade union movement, and with the spread of the Mechanics' Institute movement.

David Dale Owen American geologist

David Dale Owen was a prominent American geologist who conducted the first geological surveys of Indiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. Owen served as the first state geologist for three states: Kentucky (1854–57), Arkansas (1857–59), and Indiana. His first geological work was as an assistant mapping the geology of Tennessee in 1836. In addition, Owen was appointed as a U.S. geologist in 1839 and led federal surveys of Iowa, Wisconsin, and northern Illinois (1839–40) and in the Upper Midwest (1847-1851). Owen's greatest legacy lies in the eleven volumes of published reports from his state and federal geological surveys, which increased the general knowledge and understanding of American geology, the structural geology and paleontology of the United States, and the mineral wealth of the Midwestern states. Owen's most significant contribution to the field of geology was identifying and naming major geological formations of the Mississippi River Valley and placing them in relative position on a geological timeline. He also helped to standardize the nomenclature of geological structures in the Midwest.

New Harmony Historic District

The New Harmony Historic District in New Harmony, Indiana, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, with a boundary increase in 2000. The district includes properties within the Historic New Harmony State Historic Site. Twelve buildings from the early 19th century and twenty from the mid-19th century are within the district. The original boundary was Main Street between Granary and Church Streets and was later increased to include the area bounded by North and Steam Mill Streets and between Third and Arthur Streets.

George Mudie was a Scottish social reformer, Owenite, co-operator, journalist and publisher. He founded one of the first co-operative communities in the United Kingdom and edited several publications in which he attacked the established theories of political economy.

Gregory Claeys is Professor of the History of Political Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London and author of books on British intellectual and political history.

Robert Dale Owen Memorial is a public artwork located at the south entrance of the Indiana Statehouse along Washington Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. The memorial was donated to the state of Indiana and dedicated in 1911 in honor of the Indiana politician, Robert Dale Owen (1807–1877). The bronze portrait bust by Indiana sculptor, Frances Goodwin, has been missing from this memorial since 1970. The memorial's remaining pedestal is made from three stone blocks and includes a commemorative plaque.

Abram Combe was a British utopian socialist, an associate of Robert Owen and a major figure in the early co-operative movement, leading one of the earliest Owenite communities, at Orbiston, Scotland.

Thomas Stedman Whitwell (1784–1840) was an English architect and civil engineer, best known for his collaboration with Robert Owen on an unrealised design for a secular communal utopia at New Harmony, Indiana, USA.

Caroline Snedeker American writer

Caroline Dale Snedeker née Parke was an American writer, primarily of children's historical novels. Two of her books, Downright Dencey and The Forgotten Daughter, were runners-up for the Newbery Medal. On occasion she used the pen name Caroline Dale Owen.

Richard Owen (geologist) American geologist and soldier

Richard Dale Owen was a Scottish-born geologist, natural scientist, educator, and American military officer who arrived in the United States in 1828 and settled at New Harmony, Indiana. Owen, who was trained as a natural scientist and physician, served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army during the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War. After the Civil War, Owen taught at Indiana University for fifteen years (1864–79) and chaired its natural science department. While retaining his faculty position at IU, Owen also served as Purdue University's first president (1872–74). During the interwar years, Owen taught natural science at the Western Military Institute in Kentucky and after its merger with the University of Nashville in Tennessee. In addition, Owen assisted his brother, David Dale Owen, with early geological studies of the Northwest Territory. In 1860 Richard Owen succeeded his brother to became Indiana's second state geologist. His research interests included geology, meteorology, terrestrial magnetism, and seismology. Owen authored scientific works that included geological surveys of several U.S. states.

Margaret Chappellsmith (1806–1883) was a socialist lecturer, active in London, England and the United States of America in the 19th Century. She campaigned on communitarianism, currency reform and the women's position.

Franklin Community Place

The Franklin Community was the first American Owenite community established in New York state. Founded in 1826 two miles from the Hudson River near the town of Haverstraw in Rockland County, the enterprise stumbled in its first year of existence and was terminated later that same year.

The New Moral World was an early socialist newspaper in the United Kingdom.


Further reading

Biographies of Owen

Other works about Owen