Experimental Societies II March 14, 1945

The Harmony Society

George Rapp, the son of a farmer in Wurtemberg, Germany, preached a doctrine of Christian living which was at variance with the established churches of his homeland. He believed that men should live together without selfish purposes, each person working for the common welfare. When the churches of Germany denounced Rapp as a troublemaker he sold his belongings, left his followers in charge of his assistant with instructions to follow one year later, came to America in 1803 landing at Baltimore. His followers, 300 in number, arrived in Philadelphia on July 4, 1804. Meanwhile Rappists founded a settlement in Lycoming County, but most of them joined the Harmony Society.

The community was a success because all of the members were inspired by the same ideals. Most of them were hard-working farmers and skilled craftsmen and their willingness to work with zeal for the common welfare of all brought early prosperity to the new settlement. In 1809 nearly 20,000 bushels of grain were raised; in 1810 a woolen mill was established. By 1814 the membership of the settlement was too large to be cared for on the original tract. Then the Rappists sold all of their possessions and moved to Indiana, where they founded a new colony named New Harmony. Again they prospered. Ten years later they sold their Indiana property to Robert Owen, and English philanthropist, who wished to experiment with some ideas of socialism.


In 1825 the Rappists returned to Pennsylvania and established a new settlement at Economy, ow the borough of Ambridge, in Beaver County. Rapid progress marked the beginning of the new venture. The Economy settlement engaged in manufacturing enterprises. The chief industry was in textiles, of cotton, wool and silk; a cutlery shop was established, employing hired laborers, including many Chinese. The funds of the society were invested in a bank which the Rappists founded and in shares of coal mines, saw mills, and oil wells. Due to the regulation forbidding marriage of members the society was not self perpetuation, but it did continue to exist until the early years of the present century.

The Leonites

In 1831 George Rapp very generously permitted a European nobleman Count Maximilian de Leon, to join the Harmony Society. Leon had brought a band of German refugees with him from Europe. The Leonites soon tired of the restrictions placed on the society.

There were many troubles fomented in the Economy settlement. In 1832, Leon selected a spot on the Ohio River, ten miles north of Economy, where he decided to found his own colony. The Leonites tried to follow the example of the Rappists in establishing self-sustaining community, but after a brief trial the venture failed. When Leon found himself in financial difficulties he sent a band of his followers to demand money from Rapp. These men became involved in a riot which was quelled by the local militia of Economy. Leon then abandoned his settlement in Pennsylvania and moved to Louisiana where he died soon afterwards.


Grotto (far left) and statue of Harmonia in the Harmony Society gardens in Old Economy Village, Pennsylvania. Photograph by Lee Paxton.

image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmony_Society#/media/File:GrottoandHarmonyStatue.jpg


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