Owen, Robert, 1771-1858

Alternative names
Birth 1771-05-14
Death 1858-11-17

Biographical notes:

Robert Owen was a socialist and philanthropist.

From the description of Correspondence, 1821-1858. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122440388

Epithet: Reverend; author

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000566.0x00009b

Epithet: Dean of Jesus College, Oxford

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000566.0x000096

Epithet: of Add MS 37188

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000566.0x000099

Robert Owen was born in Newtown, Wales in 1771. He was apprenticed to a draper in Stamford, Northamptonshire at the age of 10, and continued his working education in London from the ages of 13 to 16. In 1787 Owen moved to Manchester, where he set up a small cotton-spinning establishment, and also produced spinning mules for the textile industry. Following this success, he became a manager for several large mills and factories in Manchester. In 1794 he formed the Chorlton Twist Company with several partners, and in the course of business met the Scots businessman David Dale. In 1799, Owen and his partners purchased Dale's mills in New Lanark, and Owen married Dale's daughter. At New Lanark, Owen began to act out his belief that individuals were formed by the effects of their environment by drastically improving the working conditions of the mill employees. This included preventing the employment of children and building schools and educational establishments. Owen set out his ideas for model communities in speeches and pamphlets, and attempted to spread his message by converting prominent members of British society. His detailed proposals were considered by Parliament in the framing of the Factories Act of 1819. Disillusioned with Britain, Owen purchased a settlement in Indiana in 1825, naming it New Harmony and attempting to create a society based upon his socialist ideas. Though several members of his family remained in America, the community had failed by 1828. Owen returned to England, and spent the remainder of his life and fortune helping various reform groups, most notably those attempting to form trade unions. He played a role in the establishment of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, 1834, and the Association of All Classes and All Nations, 1835. Owen died in 1858.

From the guide to the Manuscript draft of parts II and III of Robert Owen's report to the county of Lanark of a plan for relieving public distress, c1818-c1820, (Senate House Library, University of London)

Robert Owen was a key British industrialist and social theorist. He applied innovative management techniques to his New Lanark mills and achieved unprecedented results, rising from obscurity to make a fortune, earning the respect of his colleagues, the loyalty of his workers, and envy of his competitors. He became a key figure in Britain's industrial revolution, and his theories were admired throughout Europe and the United States. His belief in the importance of the environment on character led to his career as social theorist, as he argued for charity, justice, and tolerance. His unconventional religious stances and the failure of the New Harmony community in southern Indiana tarnished his reputation, but he remains a landmark figure as both an industrialist and socialist.

From the description of Robert Owen letters, 1822-1854. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 62171662

English socialist and reformer.

From the description of Autograph letter signed, [n.d.]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270610577


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  • Collective settlements--History--19th century
  • Spiritualism
  • Industrialists--Correspondence
  • Communism
  • Social welfare
  • Utopias
  • Socialism
  • Utopian socialism--History--19th century
  • Christian socialism
  • Collective settlements
  • Socialists--Correspondence
  • Collective settlements--Designs and plans


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  • London England (as recorded)
  • Oregon (as recorded)
  • Cyprus, Asia Minor (as recorded)
  • Texas (as recorded)
  • New Harmony (Ind.) (as recorded)
  • Perthshire, Scotland (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Lanarkshire Scotland (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • London, England (as recorded)