Category Archives: Real Utopian Communities and Experiments

Utopian Societies in the 1960s

During the 1960s, many small intentional communities were formed with the purpose of following the ideas of free love, social protest, and drug use that have come to define the decade. Further study of three communities established during this time period offer a perspective on the aspirations of the stereotypical hippie who turns away from greater society to live amongst a small group of people with no laws or judgement. The loosely formed communities of Tolstoy Farm, the Perry Lane Cabins, and Drop City were constructed as havens for free expression and life away from subjective social norms, where participants could find their own personal utopias during a time of great sociopolitical strife.

Many intentional societies are formed around the teachings of certain philosophers, both old and new. One such example is the Tolstoy Farm commune that was formed in the rural town of Davenport, Washington in 1963. Leo Tolstoy was a novelist and great thinker who was active in the mid to late 19th century, during which he wrote his most famous works War and Peace and Anna Karenina. The themes present in his writings inspired a group of activists to follow him, who called themselves Tolstoyans. Tolstoyans follow the values Tolstoy modeled after Jesus Christ’s “sermon on the mount” from the New Testament. Specifically, Tolstoyans followed the following tenets:

  1. Love your enemies.
  2. Do not be angry.
  3. Do not fight evil with evil, but return evil with good.
  4. Do not lust.
  5. Do not take oaths.

The original Tolstoy farm was founded in South Africa in 1910 by Mohandas Ghandi. This is where he first began to teach the ideas of pacifism and non-violence, keeping strictly faithful to these five tenets. Over fifty years later, when Hue Williams founded the second Tolstoy Farm, it was with the intention of providing a base for organized government protests, which were hugely popular during the decade. Although he did create his society based on the ideas of Ghandi and Tolstoy that he admired, his adaptation of the Tolstoyan Farm was more of an attempt to live free of the influence of government, and try to disrupt that influence on others in the form of social protest. In the 120 acre community, which at its height was comprised of close to 50 individuals, consumption of drugs and promiscuity were promoted. Monogamous relations were actually heavily discouraged. This lead to severe rifts in the originally tightly-knit community, and would eventually contribute to its demise. During the five years the community was active, its inhabitants lead lives of very few comforts. Williams’ rules prohibited members from holding traditional jobs outside of the society. Instead, they relied on cultivating their own sources of food and pleading for donations. One of Tolstoy Farm’s few sources of income came from the sale of illegal drugs, specifically marijuana that was grown on site. There was little significant infrastructure in the community, as one reporter described described:

Dotted with shacks and makeshift abodes, it’s reminiscent of Hoovervilles of the 1930’s.

Hoovervilles were makeshift shacks built in the outskirts of major cities during the Great Depression, named after then-president Herbert Hoover.

The individuals who congregated together on the Tolstoy Farm did not have many skills to maintain their community. They were primarily interested in social protest and a laid back way of life away from society that they believed was stifling them. In 1968, the Farm was faced with the culmination of several major problems that had plagued the community since its inception. The society was under heavy police scrutiny due to their sale of illegal drugs, and members were leaving the community, largely fed up with the pressure to refrain from traditional relationships. Later that year, a fire destroyed most of the constructions on the site, and this was the final nail in the Tolstoy Farm’s coffin. The plot of land was abandoned, and later reclaimed and built into a farming collective, which it remains to this day.

Many of the social experiments organized during this decade were small groups of people that congregated together with the intention of consuming psychedelic drugs. LSD is a drug widely associated with the 60s, and its use was allowed in the United States until 1966. Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey were two popular figures who wrote and spoke extensively in support of the drug for its medicinal and spiritual benefits, and they were both participants in a short-lived society which resided in several wood cabins on Perry Lane, Menlo Park, California. Timothy Leary was a Harvard professor who was dismissed form the university after conducting studies of the effects of psychedelic drugs on the human mind. He continued to lecture about the benefits of psilocybin and LSD around the country, and remained active in his support of psychedelics until his death in 1996. Ken Kesey, author of the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was a participant in the CIA-financed MK-Ultra experiments which looked to develop psychedelics as a form of mind control. After this, he organized the Perry Lane cabins settlement and traveled around the country with his “band of merry pranksters” to promote psychedelic drug use, as detailed in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests.

Timothy Leary
Ken Kesey

The Perry Lane cabins were organized with the specific intention of bringing people together to discover their own utopias through companionship and psychedelic drug use. Participants engaged in “acid tests,” which were parties in which the drugs were taken and experiences were shared and discussed. The events inspired the title of Wolfe’s book, who wrote of the unity of the members in this society:

There were many puzzled souls looking in, but we were all captivated… Perry Lane was too good to be true. It was Walden Pond, only without any Thoreau misanthropes around. Instead, a community of intelligent, very open, out-front people who cared deeply about one another and shared… and embarked on some kind of adventure in living.

Perhaps the most well known and accomplished utopian society during the decade was the artist’s commune formed in Trinidad, Colorado in 1965 known as Drop City. After meeting at the at the University of Kansas, where they all studied painting, Jo Ann and Gene Bernofsky along with Clark Richert decided to buy 6 acres of land so they may live together cheaply and focus on making great works of art. They recruited a few local artists and built small shacks on the property out of any material they could get their hands on (most often the metal roofs of discarded automobiles) in the shape of geodesic domes, a sphere-like conglomeration of various shapes designed by the American inventor Buckminster Fuller to be completely structurally efficient. These large metal domes laid out with various colors became the recognizable symbol of Drop City.

The society would accept anyone who was willing to create, accept a simple life, and share in some of the beliefs of Drop City’s original founders. They did not believe in work for pay in the traditional sense, and it was important to them that everyone in the community be equal in their poverty, as Jo Ann Bernofsky described:

It’s important to be employed; work is important, but we felt that to be gainfully employed was a sucking of the soul and that a part of one of the purposes of the new civilization was to be employed, but not to be gainfully employed, so that each individual would be their own master and we idealistically believed that if we were true to that principle, that if we did nongainful work that the cosmic forces would take note of this and would supply us with the necessities of survival.

The necessities of survival that she speaks of were mostly  gained through scavenging and donations (some from Buckminster Fuller himself). For some time, the community enjoyed its reclusion and occupants were happy to be able to produce art. Soon enough, Drop City found celebrity thanks to being profiled in Time magazine in 1967 and rumored visits of famous musicians such as Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison. Several citizens began to sell their artworks to be displayed in galleries. This went against the intentions of the original founders, who left in 1968. Drop City grew to the size of about forty people who continued to work on art together, their most well-known piece being The Ultimate Painting.


The Ultimate Painting

Excitement about the renegade community died out quickly, however, and life in Drop City was exceedingly difficult due to the same lack of resources that contributed to the downfall of the Tolstoy Farm. Abandoned by its founders and with no attempt to better the grounds on which it stood, Drop City disbanded at the end of 1970. The following article reports on conditions towards the end of the society’s existence:

The kitchen was filthy, and there was no soap because money was short. Hepatitis had recently swept through the commune… Sleeping quarters were seriously overcrowded. The outhouse was filled to overflowing, and there was no lime to sterilize it. In 1970, Drop City had become a laboratory dedicated to a totally minimal existence.

A large reason as to why these societies were short lived is the lack of proper infrastructure
 . The people who organize these societies seem to have lacked the skills or simply did not attend to the design of plumbing, food sources, and other necessities to allow their communes the ability to flourish. All of these experimental societies of the 1960s were formed by just a few individuals with the desire to turn away from greater society and their own ideas of what it takes to make a utopia. 

The Ahwahnee Principles and New Urbanism

Urbanism means the lifestyle of city dwellers. New Urbanism, is a movement for urban planning and design that hopes to increase the sense of community within a any city dweller’s lifestyle.

The concern for the lack of sense of community started after World War II. Since the 1950s, the development of streetcar and affordable rapid transit has caused cities to spread out, which in turn creates “streetcar suburbs”. Later, during the automobile industry boom, cities became less centralized, causing societies to isolate themselves within urban sprawls.

Urban sprawls describe the expansion of communities away from central urban areas. This structure is both the creation and the promoter of heavy automobile usage.

To bring back more communal spaces, New Urbanism was slowly in development. There are a few main qualities that New Urbanism pushes for. According to the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), they are:

  1. The creation of more walkable, human-scaled neighborhoods.
  2. Bring destination within reach and allow for frequent encounters between citizens. A key measure is the accessibility of these spaces to people with a range of physical abilities and financial resources.
  3. Increasing the amount of shared spaces. E.g. plazas, park, squares, cafes, etc.
  4. Sustainability through Green Designs. This pushes the use of walking, bicycles, and transit use.
  5. Reuse and renew old, damaged regions. E.g. transforming a damaged housing area into habitable mixed-income neighborhoods

New Urbanism only became prominent after the establishment of The Ahwahnee Principles.

In 1991, Peter Katz, a staff-member of the Local Government Commision and author of The New Urbanism, brought together various architects to develop a set of rules to new urban spaces and communities. They met at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, and hence the name “The Ahwahnee Principles”. The group of architects was asked to find the common characteristics between various urban planning movements, namely, “Neotraditional Planning”, “Sustainable development”, “Transit-oriented Design”, “New Urbanism”, and “Livable” Communities.  Then, from the common set of community principles, they were asked to develop regional principles.

Here’s the official list of Community Principles, Regional Principles and Implementation Principles.

Many cities in the U.S has started to incorporate The Ahwahnee Principles in their urban planning. Most of these cities are on the east coast; cities like Pasedena, San Jose, Sacremento, Santabarbara, San Diego, and Walnut Creek. An example of a simple implementation some of these cities, is by building new shopping malls in near transit rather than off freeways.

Although New Urbanism seems like it is fostering better, more “liveable” spaces, there is also a criticism that argues against New Urbanism. Peter Gordon, a professor of Urban Planning from University of Southern California, spoke in favor of suburbanization because he thinks that New Urbanism ignores the consumer’s preference for the free market; people moved towards car-oriented development  that is what people want.

My presentation:

Monsanto House of the Future (1957)


This House of the Future was founded in 1957 as an attraction site in Disneyland (Anaheim, California), built by the Monsanto Company, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Walt Disney Imagineering. It was closed in 1967. Within its ten year period, approximately 20 million people have visited this attraction.

Monsanto Company
The Monsanto Company, heavily involved with chemicals, desired to expand its presence in the home construction industry. For this attraction, their goal was to design a home that explored the optimized utilization of plastics as a building material. They pushed plastics as a new and creative candidate for building materials. Today, the company is best known for producing genetically modified seeds and other agricultural solutions.

Blueprint of the rooms inside the house; outside view of the house. This house was built for a nuclear family (2 parents and 2 children), with no pets.
Inside kitchen and living rooms. The bottom right photo is the living room that was “updated” in 1960.
Bedrooms, sneak peek of the master bathroom, and the kitchen.

House Description
This walkthrough attraction featured a home set in the year 1986 (three decades into the future), highlighting futuristic materials, styles, and household appliances. The future was depicted as an absence of traditional furniture styles and natural elements, and an embracement of ultra-modern synthetics—mainly, plastic. However, one key aspect still seen as contemporary (at least, to our current standards) was the color scheme of the furniture and décor—it was all very 1950s.

The house, with four wings extending from a center, “floated” on a pedestal above a modern landscape. It was approximately 1300 square feet, with each wing measured at 8’ H x 16’ W x 16’ L. It included a family and living room, kitchen, dining room, master bedroom, master bathroom, two children’s bedrooms (one for each gender), and a shared kids’ bathroom.

The builders designed a home using wings, or cubes—straying away from the usual square exterior—to maximize access to daylight for each room and add privacy for various activities. This design could also be implemented into any location—whether a rocky mountain or steep hill, the pedestal would turn any bad location into a workable one. The structure on top of the pedestal could even be rotated to change the views.

Governing Philosophy & Rules
This utopia indicated no information about the future state of government, laws and politics, and human rights/rules. There is no federal, state, or local government designation.

Science & Technology
The Monsanto Company and its collaborators studied how plastics were being used in construction in the 1950s, and they experimented how its particular properties could be practically applied in the future. The exterior consisted of 16 “molded polyester-urethane” layers, while the interior consisted of “reinforced epoxy support columns, laminated wood beams, and laminated safety glass” ( All of the structural properties were made to last in outstanding condition. In fact, the demolition crew’s wrecking balls bounced off the structure after the site was closed down. Ultimately, they had to resort to choker chains to break up the plastics into manageable, smaller pieces. This house demonstrated an increased acceptance of plastic as an exploitable material for the construction industry.

One of the major revolutionary indicators was the kitchen. Inside this home, household appliances either hung from ceiling cabinets or popped up out of the counter. A smaller microwave oven (they were inconveniently large at the time) was a prophetic indicator of the evolving appliance. Today’s modern fridge drawers mimic the home’s “cold zone” units that fit inside several cabinets.

There were other “revolutionary” features inside the house that accurately reflect our society today. Some items include the electric toothbrush, built-in stereo system, wall-mounted televisions, and security screens to see who is at the front door. Dimmable ceiling lights found inside the house back then are also a common element found in homes and other buildings today. The push-button speakerphone with preset dialing, installed by Bell Telephone, is echoed today via speed dial buttons on mobile machines.

Plastic does seems to be a bigger part of our lives today—hello, Ikea furniture—but it is not everything. While we do incorporate plasticware and plastic furniture, today’s society does not find plastic particularly elegant or classy. In today’s time, people look to other elements (steels, woods, bricks, ceramics) as higher quality materials.

1967, Closed
This attraction was closed down in 1967 to make way for another attraction, Adventure Thru Inner Space, which was also sponsored by the Monsanto Company.


Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 8.04.14 AM
Inside the Innovations Dream Home– the Magic Mirror.

2008, Innoventions Dream Home
Disney announced that it would bring back the attraction in a renovated form, renamed as the Innoventions Dream Home, with a more modern and accessible interior. In collaboration with Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Lifeware, it was a house focused more on modern technology rather than foundational material.

2014, Today
Although the attraction is now closed, the reinforced concrete foundation still exists in its original location. It is currently being used as a planter in a garden space within the park—hiding in plain sight!

–   Three years after it’s opening, the house underwent a major update because many of the things that seemed “futuristic” in 1957, became contemporary in 1960. It underwent another major update before it was closed.
–   In 1956, 15% of plastics made in the U.S. was allocated to construction, compared to 23% today

The Israeli Kibbutz / Kibbutzim



Kibbutzim are voluntary democratic societies where people live and work together on a non competitive basis. There is communal property, social justice and equality.

“Kibbutz” means communal society in Hebrew. The first kibbutz was established in 1909 by a group from the BILU movement. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, members of the BILU movement previously tried to create a society based on Marxist values and one that lived off the land. These members were fleeing anti-Semitism and wanted to establish a socialist society. After a few unsuccessful attempts, members created the first Kibbutz, which was called Degania. The founders had little to no experience in agriculture, little funding and were working with desolate land. Both the unsuccessful and successful attempts were built on land in Palestine that was bought by the Jewish National Fund.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

In the earlier years, the kibbutz movement was based on agriculture. When the State of Israel was established in 1948, this movement played a crucial role in the development of the state. They also helped assimilate the new immigrants.

Family and Gender Roles
In earlier times, children lived in a communal children’s home. Children now stay at their parental homes till high school. Also, there has been increased support for parents to have larger roles in their children’s lives and for more time for women to be home with their children.

Women are equal participants in the labor force and can hold any job. In earlier years, women sought to prove their worth by doing “men’s work”. A majority of women in kibbutzim today prefer jobs in education, health, and other services.

Daily Life in a Kibbutz: Citizens are “Kibbutniks” 

People are here voluntarily and are assigned a role for varying lengths in time while more routine tasks like dining hall or washing dishes. The members that work outside of the kibbutz turn over their incomes to the kibbutz. Compared to the earlier times, members now have more individual choice in the community. Members have a certain amount of credit they can spend each year as they wish. Additionally, they celebrate Jewish Holidays and Festivals. Many host films, professional performances and choirs in their auditorium. This is not a utopia that cut itself off from the outside world. Rather, they embraced it while still staying to true to their founding principles.

Government and Expansion
The kibbutzim have  democratic systems. They hold weekly meetings in order to decide upon issues. There are elections for administrative members – Each administrative member leads an economic branch for 2-3 years. All inhabitants are provided for with life necessities (food, housing, clothes, social and medical services). Additionally, all property and wealth is communal.

By the early 2000’s, there were over 250 Kibbutzim established throughout Israel. Members make up 2.5% of Israel’s population and it is important to remember that no one is forced to be in the society.

How do they make Kibbutzim work in modern times?

As economic trends changed, the kibbutzim realized that they could not survive on agriculture alone and welcomed in new types of industries to sustain the community. Many Kibbutzim have branched out into other industries to increase productivity

Every child after High School is still required to do mandatory army service. Members have been involved in politics and held office but numbers have dwindled in recent years

Most importantly…. TOURISM is a huge industry for them…. You can volunteer on a Kibbutz for only $690!








Biosphere II

Biosphere II was a real-utopian community for about 3 years. It is located in Oracle, Arizona. It is named Biosphere II after out planet Earth, which is the first biosphere. The inventor/director or research is John Polk Allen, a ecologist and engineer. He is now the Chairman of Global Ecotechnics Corporation. After being owned by different companies, five biome areas were created in addition to an area for human habitat. Two missions that included about 8 people were conducted in 1991 and 1994 to test survivability and whether a small community could develop and live in a self-sustaining colony.

The first mission in 1991 was not so successful. By 1992 members had lost weight because of low food production and the oxygen levels were low. Chickens were not producing enough eggs and pigs were eating the biospherians’ food so the farm animals were eaten instead. Also there were rumors that they smuggled food from the outside. The second mission only lasted 6 months because of management disputes. Now it is a scientific research institute for the University of Arizona.

Some of the course themes include Ecology, Economics, and Science and Technology. Recycling is a key part of living in Biosphere II. Each person uses the same water and recycles all their waste. Using half an acre of land to grow food, they also keep the land fertile and only use non-polluting pest control methods. Each person is assigned different tasks to fulfill. These tasks include researching within different biomes, coordinating the technical system, planting and harvesting crops, and preparing meals. In Biosphere II, technology is used to control the systems such as waves, waterfalls, temperature, and humidity. The biospherians conduct research on how to restore endangered habitats by using their controlled environment. They try to find out how different elements affect the land.

Information from:
Images from Google


Charles Fourier: 1772-1837

Charles Fourier was born in 1772 and lived until 1837. He was the influencer of many utopian societies that emerged in the US around mid-1800. He influenced the likes of Karl Marx and also Albert Brisbane, who influenced the Brook Farm utopian society in Massachusetts.

During Fourier’s lifetime he did not witness any of the societies or communities that that followed his teachings, which were called associations, but he did die trying to acquire funding to build one of his very own and was in the process of doing so when he died. The communities he inspired were called associations and followed what was known as associationism.


Charles Fourier was born in Besancon, France to parents Charles and Marie Fourier.  His dad was a wealthy cloth merchant. When he died in Paris in 1837 he was regarded as “Near illiterate”.

Throughout his life Fourier resented the intellects of his time, because they ignored his ideas. Some of his more fantastic ideas about the future of society were people would grow to a height of 7 ft., live to be 144 years old, have powerful tails, and lastly he believed that inevitably there would be a communal association of people who worked and lived together- all a part of the human future.

He had strong beliefs about women and the rights of women. In 1837 he coined the term Feminisme. He also disagreed heavily with the treatment of European women and the family structure (perhaps why in his ideas and theories he later suggested women would have 4 husbands and have a different family role).  As early as 1808 he was quoted saying “level of development of any civilization could be determined by the extent to which women are liberated”



Fourier’s governing philosophy comes out of his books which start with the book Theory of Four Movements. Fourier believed that the structure of economics, politics, and the social system, – prohibited the pursuit of God-given passions. This prevented people from achieving a state of universal harmony. He believed that through an understanding of the process Fourier called “social science” new economic and social formations called associations could be formed.

Fourier believed there were 32 stages of society. He believed he was living in the 5th stage Modern Society. Modern society was based on capital and labor- the era of the salesman- selling goods through the work of the middleman – he called this civilization and blamed it on the cause of fraud, waste, human unhappiness. The stage Modern society would be followed by Stage 6 when Modern Society vanishes and Guarantism follows. It is based upon principles of “universal insurance” guarantee of employment, labor, and security of capital. Stage 7 Simple Association was based on the cooperative enterprise of like bodies of farmers, artisans, etc. as distinct groups. Stage 8 Compound Association/ Harmonism was the stage where all pursuits would join in large associations shattering economic lines

Charles Fourier believed there were scientific laws which governed social interactions. The natural passions of man would, if properly channeled, result in social harmony- the Phalanx.  For these ideas and beliefs he created Fourier believed he was as important as Isaac Newton for his discovery of the fundamental source that drives social development.

12 Basic Passions of humanity– grouped around three branches of a passional tree (luxurious passions, affective passions, and distributive passions) Fourier believed that this is how the future world would be shaped

Passional attraction/ System of Passions

12 passions:

5 passions of the senses- (sight, hearing, touch, scent, taste)

4 passions of the soul (friendship, love, ambition, parenthood)

3 passions that related to work (love of variety, rivalry, conspiracy)

Fourierism Structure based on class themes: Economics/ Family and Reproduction/ Political and Government/ Ecology

Economics – economic output in a Fourier community comprised of:

    • Labor
    • Capital
    • Talent

Each of these parts was important to production and needed to be compensated for prosperity of the association. Compensation would be based on the time of labor, difficulty of task, desirability of the task, and level of skill needed for completing the job.

Family and Reproduction (Social Life) – Phalanxes would be made up of 1620 people of various social classes. They would be arranged in occupational series with major division between industries.  Producers and agrarians separate from each other. Divided first by job, then divided in smaller groups to conduct various aspects of work. There would however be the ability for mobility between groups according to personal wants.

Political / Government– Fourier never suggest any government and suggested voluntary participation for the phalanxes to work. Emulation of the initial community would be inspired by the first community and spread because of the benefits that the community would have and produce.

Ecology– because of the eventual international spread of Fourierism, Charles believed war would be eliminated in our society and armies would arise only for large scale projects that would engage in mainly ecological projects such as climate transformation.

WHY FOURIERISM- Charles Fourier’s ideas for Fourierism arise from a need for a better work environment and liberty for all. Although he felt industry could produce wealth he thought its methods were alienating. The Phalanx would be a type of work unit in which work was distributed on a rational and rotating basis. Fourier thought that the phalanx would produce triple the products of industry because of the industrial attraction and concord of the passions in the Phalanx communities. Fourier thought that his ideas would produce liberty for all. He felt liberty if not enjoyed by all is unreal and with Fourierism we would be able to secure liberty.

Fourierism  – PowerPoint with photos.

Oneida Community

The Oneida Community was founded by Joseph Humphrey Noyes in 1848.  Noyes’ interpretation of some key passages in the bible led him to believe that the Second Coming of Christ had already happened in 70 AD.  This led him to interpret some more passages to mean that there was no more marriage between one man and one woman, but instead every man belonged to every woman the same way that all property should be held in common.

Noyes originally started a community in Putney, VT but do to the practice of Complex Marriage, he was charged with adultery and moved the community to Oneida, NY, where it became the Oneida Community.

There was a big theme of holy sexuality in Oneida.  Because every man was married to every woman (Complex Marriage), promiscuity was encouraged to the point that exclusive relationships were actually forbidden.  To keep down the birth rate, Noyes instituted a policy of Male Continence that the Oneidans were required to practice.

Teenage boys who were still learning this method were paired with menopausal women so that the chances of them conceiving would go down, while the older men such as Noyes paired themselves with teenage girls who were in their prime attractiveness.

Noyes also believed in Eugenics.  There was a committee in charge of pairing members of the community together to produce the best children possible.  Noyes, being the founder of the community, was chosen to father nine of the 56 children that resulted.

The community eventually broke down when the children came of age.  Noyes wanted to pass on leading the community to his son Dr. Theodore Noyes.  His son was a bad leader because he didn’t believe in Christianity and he wanted to lead from a distance instead of being directly involved.  Noyes eventually had to take over the duties again.  This, combined with factions, the law catching up with them (Oneidans were practicing statuary rape) and the death of Noyes contributed to the Oneida Community’s demise a few years later.

Oneida Dwellings
Oneida Community
Oneida Children
Oneida Now
John Humphrey Noyes


The Disston Saw Works


Disston Saw Works was a utopia of the working class. It all began as one company in the mid-1800s, a very successful saw business owned by British immigrant Henry Disston. Disston came to America towards the end of the Industrial Revolution when factory life had been established as a result of an increase in machinery. This was a prime time in history for Disston to start his company. His handsaw business soon became successful and reputable for its high-quality handsaws, even on an international level (which were made from scratch unlike most saw companies at the time). After the growth of his business, Henry decided to move shop from urban Philadelphia to the small and isolated Tacony section of Philadelphia. During this time, he also expanded his business to manufacture many other tools and steel products. In 1872, Henry had laid the foundations in Tacony for what became known as a company town stretching over 400 acres.

Overlap of Government and Economics, With a Dash of Human Rights

Company towns were actually quite common in America in the 19th century, at one point housing 3% of the population. They were communities isolated from urban areas that completely revolved around a central monopolizing company. The company, in this case the Disston Saw Works, had complete ownership of all business, infrastructure, housing, and shops in the town. The Disston family acted as not only the workplace, but also the ruling government and surrounding economy, blending many acting societal forces into one.

The Disston family controlled and regulated economic life, owning all of the businesses in town and barring certain businesses completely, for example “dirty” ones such as tanneries and any business not owned by Disston. All of these businesses bore an emblem on its front of a keystone (the nickname of Pennsylvania) with a “D” in the center, showing Disston’s economic control of the town. Under Henry Disston’s governance, workers for these businesses were paid somewhat low wages but had a short hour workday, were trained at a special trade school, and received good benefits (for example, in the case of illness). Sometimes families were even given paid days off for leisure activities. All workers had a right to a decent living.

Henry Disston did not use his power to be a ruthless leader; rather, he was somewhat of a paternal figure for his 2,500 workers. He wanted them to live in the utmost convenience with all they needed to survive comfortably. His main reasoning was that if he treated workers fairly, it would increase work performance. This mutualistic relationship led to the construction of many public works buildings such as movie theaters, libraries, and music halls, which Disston personally financed the construction and maintenance of. Disston also made sure that each and every one of his workers had a place to stay, building thousands of homes and financially assisting buyers whenever necessary.

One of the only restricting governing rules imposed on working citizens by Disston was that they were not allowed to form a union. This was a common fear of employers at the time, as a union put rules into the workers’ hands rather than the employers’. Since the economy and the government were so overlapped in the Disston Saw Works, a union would have been double the threat to the leader of a company town like Henry Disston.

Gender Roles

In respect to gender, women were active participants of working life. They were not restricted to the home, but like the men were educated in schools and participated in small tasks in the factory work. Everybody who lived in Disston Saw Works was able to work for the company in order to maintain their stay. All were dependent on the workplace.


The workforce of Disston Saw Works in Tacony lived in a very well-regulated society that echoed a clear utopian vision. Prevailing ethical uprightness was encouraged in order to promote better workers. For example, there was no alcohol allowed. If workers were liable to be drunks, it may have affected their work performance the next morning or even over a long period of time depending on severity. Disston saw ethics as reaching into the workplace, and therefore did what he could to set a high moral standard.


Surprisingly for a factory town, Disston was environmentally conscious and ecologically friendly. In an 1886 visit by the Pennsylvania Secretary of Internal Affairs, the water was reported as pure because the town had its own water supply (a drastic contrast from dirty, unhealthy and crowded urban life), and the air was fresh and clean.


Another important factor of the Disston Saw Works was the religious tolerance established by Disston. Land was made available for several churches of different backgrounds, with no unifying community religion. Not only did this ensure peace and open-mindedness among citizens, but it also meant a greater workforce. Less workers would have chose to live on the acres opened up by Disston if they did not want to conform to a ruling religion.

The entire community certainly benefited from a mutualistic relationship between hard worker and benevolent boss, a utopia not as often recreated in today’s workforce.

All Good Things Come to an End

A few things contributed to the downfall of the Disston Saw Works. After Henry Disston’s death, there were issues with keeping the business in the family in future generations. There was less regulation of economy: other businesses that were not Disston-owned were allowed to populate the town, decentralizing the Disston monopoly. In addition, the prevalence of the automobile meant that workers no longer had to live close to their workplace, and many moved away. After providing the steel for tanks in the WWII effort, Disston Saw Works was sold out of the family in 1955. However, the company remains to this day, keeping the name by calling itself Disston Precision.

An interesting example of a modern day company town.

My presentation

Henry Disston. The way this picture was drawn reflects his image to the public- a benevolent and kind paternal figure.
Music Hall architectural structure built in Disston.
A layout of Disston Saw Works. Shows factories by the waterfront and the houses beyond.
Inside one of the factories, where women were permitted to work.
The emblem on all Disston-owned buildings.

Shaker Societies

The Shaking Quakers, or “Shakers,” as they are commonly known were members of a movement originated in a Quaker revival in England in 1747 led by James and Jane Wardley. However, their strength and prominence in the United States developed after the appearance of Ann Lee, or as she would become known, “Mother Ann.” The Shaker societies reached their peak during the 1830s. The term “Shakers” was attributed to the group because of their wild outbursts of song and dance during their religious ceremonies.



While singing, dancing, and marching characterized many phases of Shaker worship, other tenets included: celibacy, open confession of sins, communal ownership of possessions, separation from the world, pacifism, equality of both the sexes and the races, and consecrated work.The Shakers rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and drew much inspiration from the Pentecostal Church, of which the five primary principles were: common property, celibacy, non-resistance, separate government, and power over physical disease.

Another critical aspect of their society was the “family” system. In this system, each Shaker community was divided into semi-autonomous subdivisions called “families.” Each community consisted generally between 2-6 families, ranging in size from about ten to more than one hundred members. Each family was administered by either an elder or elders who acted as the leading characters of the family. These leaders knew the occupations and locations of every Shaker within the family, conducted the initiations of novices and controlled the movements of trustees in their external dealings. The basic unit of social interaction for each shaker was the family. While the sexes were equal, they interacted minimally in order to circumvent human sexual desires. In accordance with the practice of Mother Ann, the only question asked of those who sought admission to the society was “are you sick of sin, and do you want salvation from it?” Overall, the society was one of extreme restriction on individual freedom in the interests of the community.

Religion played an immense role in Shaker society. Devotion to God led the Shakers to renounce a decadent life, sexual relations, and even nuclear family relations in order pursue their spiritual beliefs. In order to give all their attention to God and spiritual study, the Shakers eliminated all distractions and used all their energy to their religious devotion. One way of suppressing sexual desires, for instance, was for the Shakers to exert all their energy through active dancing and stomping through which they celebrated their religion.


The Shakers were also well known for their produce. As a self-sustaining community, members of the Shaker community spent the majority of their day contributing labor to the farmlands. This also contributed to their exertion of energy that exhausted them to the point of being unable to consider acting on their sexual desires.

ShakerBarnandHerbGarden (2)images






The Shakers are also well-known for their excellent craftsmanship, particularly wood carving. Their simple, functional style has made their work famous throughout the states.