|The Robert Owen Museum. Photo by "Indigo Goat" Some rights reserved|
" I left this country in 1824 to go to the United States to sow the seeds in that new fertile soil - new for material and mental growth - the cradle of the future liberty of the human race"
As the years passed Robert Owen grew more disillusioned as his plans for model communities failed to make any progress. Even in New Lanark, an outstanding success in social reform, he was encountering problems with his partners over his liberal views on religion and education.
In 1824 Robert Owen heard that a settlement called Harmony in Indiana in the United States was for sale. That winter he sailed for America to inspect the estate believing that the New World might provide the right environment for establishing an experimental co-operative community. Harmony proved ideally suited to his needs, with agricultural land, small industries and community buildings and the estate was purchased for one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars.
Owen's ideas for social reform and co-operative communities had been well received in America, and shortly after his arrival he was invited to speak to Congress. He travelled widely, publicising his scheme and inviting people to join his New Harmony community.
Meanwhile, the settlement was left in the care of his son, William. Settlers flocked to New Harmony, but most were unsuited to community life and very few had the necessary skills to farm the land or run small industries. As the settlement became overcrowded the chaos developed, William had to write to his father urging him to send no more settlers.
Eventually, order was restored and the community became organised using a system based entirely on co-operation. This state of affairs did not last long, and without continuous guidance from Robert Owen, a feeling of dissatisfaction grew in the community. This resulted in the community splitting into independent but co-operative groups. Some of these still used an entirely co-operative system, but others confined their co-operation to religion, education, recreation and work in the natural sciences, which was encouraged by Owen's partner in the venture, William McClure, a Scottish philanthropist from Philadelphia.
By 1828 it was clear that Robert Owen's New Harmony model co-operative community experiment had failed. In June that year he handed over the estate to his sons an returned to Britain.