New Harmony, Indiana

A model utopia

Robert Owen's rendition of his model utopia, it was obvious why people would be inclined to move there

Background of New Harmony

New Harmony, Indiana was originally a small township owned by the Harmonite Germans in the hopes of finding land with fertile soil and access to a waterway. It was built in the likes of Germany, with a strong industrial presence with its steam operated wool carding and spinning factory. One pilgrim commented "it seemed as though I found myself in the midst of Germany". In 1825, a man by the name of Robert Owen had a vision to found a "New Moral World" of happiness, enlightenment, and prosperity through education, science, technology, and communal living. Owen had become wealthy from his colony of New Lanark in Scotland and sailed to America in order to make his vision reality. He bought the ready town of Harmony and invited everyone to join him in his quest for utopia. The problem with that was that even if there were many who wished to see his project succeed, many of the people that came were free loaders and adventurers who dragged the town down. For the latter part of 1825, Owen headed out to find new recruits while his son William looked after the town. William expressed his concern of the new arrivals. When Owen returned, he found the town in chaos. Owen left the town in 1826 and the town slowly declined until it disbanded in 1829.

Although it was a failure, it achieved many things. In the field of science, it was an important center of science nationally, and it had many advances, especially in the sectors of geology and zoology. In public reform, Robert Dale Owen, Owen's eldest son, served in Indiana legislature, and he was an advocate for women's rights, free public education, and opposed slavery. He also wrote the first treatise to deal with birth control. Many of the town's residents were prestigious educators, and were involved in theater and the printing press as well.

Sign in current New Harmony, townspeople today still remember the previous efforts

Primary source


In his book Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Frederick Engels, the co-worker of Karl Marx, described how Owen's work began at a time when the conditions of the working class in the large manufacturing towns of Britain had become frightful.

At this juncture there came forward as a reformer a manufacturer 29 years old -- a man of almost sublime, childlike simplicity of character, and at the same time one of the few born leaders of men. Robert Owen had adopted the teaching of the materialistic philosophers that man's character is the product on the one hand of heredity on the other of the environment of the individual during his lifetime, and especially during his period of development.

In the industrial revolution most of his class saw only chaos and confusion, and the opportunity of fishing in these troubled waters and making large fortunes quickly. He saw in it the opportunity of putting into practice his favorite theory, and so bringing order out of chaos.

He had already tried it with success, as superintendent of more than 500 men in a Manchester factory. From 1800 to 1829, he directed the great cotton mill at New Lanark, in Scotland, as managing partner, along the same lines, but with greater freedom of action and with a success that made him a European reputation.

A population, originally consisting of the most diverse and, for the most part, very demoralized elements, a population that gradually grew to 2,500, he turned into a model colony, in which drunkenness, police, magistrates, lawsuits, poor laws, charity were unknown. And all this simply by placing the people in conditions worthy of human beings, and especially by carefully bringing up the rising generation.


     This analysis shows an indepth view of Robert Owen as a person who cared about the rights of the workers. He connects Owen's previous dealings with the working class and he had been successful so he was not a rookie when he came to start up New Harmony. He treated his people as human beings and not as his subjects, which differed him from other utopian attempts.

The tract of land that Robert Owens bought, close to the Wabash River


     New Harmony was an early attempt at a communist like society, maybe a foreshadowing of later communism that was also doomed for failure. New Harmony, even if it failed, was a big cultural center for the United States, with some renowned educators working as teachers, Robert Dale Owens being a politician and ardent believer in equal rights and Robert Owen himself was well known in Europe. The town was also noted for its industrial roots in the likeness of Germany and its contribution to some fields of science.

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