In 1841, George and Sophia Ripley had a dream. A dream of a land where everyone was self-reliant, yet, at the same time, pitched in for the community. Seeing as they were hard working people, they created this land from the ground up in West Roxbury, Massachusetts and they called it Brook Farm.
For one full year of room and board in Brook Farm all one had to do was either farm, work in the manufacturing shops, performing domestic chores or help arrange the recreational activities. The Ripley's believed that if everyone worked their fingers to the bone they could eventually use their boney fingers for an extended amount of play time. It was a good idea that totally went wrong because if it hadn't, we'd be living in it right now.
Everything was going incredibly well for the Brook Farm community until George began taking to heart the lessons of a one Charles Fourier. Fourier was a sociological thinker and a bit of a philosopher. Fourier's beliefs were really no different than Ripley's original beliefs. They were just Ripley's original beliefs TAKEN TO THE MAX!! (not enough things are taken to the max any more). This meant that a lot of that play time that they worked so hard for was sacrificed and replaced with more work.
Things came to a head when, after the writing of a new Brook farm constitution, many foods such as coffee, all meats, butter and tea were no longer offered. They lost some members at that point. Once Ripley announced that, out of a sense of honor, all of the younger people had to do the really nasty work like repairing roads, cleaning stables, and slaughtering animals, the entire thing just collapsed in on itself. By 1847, it was Brook Farm was dead and gone.
Everyone has heard of Quakers, but have you hear of the Shakers? Well, the shakers began as an off-shoot of the famous Quakers. In 17th century England, religious turmoil was afoot. A group of dissenting Quakers had had enough of it all and, under the leadership Mother Ann Lee, packed their crap and went where everyone in the world goes when you hate what your home country has become, America.
As is to be expected with these utopian societies, the Shakers believed in working yourself silly, and in common ownership (meaning, what's mine is your and what's yours is mine). Unlike the Brook Farm folks above, the Shakers weren't really all that in to fun. In fact, fun was one of the last things they wanted to do. Most of their days went as follows: Pray, pray, atone for sins, pray, eat, farm, farm, farm, farm, farm, pray, pray, pray, sleep, and repeat. The reason they were even called the shakers was because of this weird thing they loved to do which was to spontaneously break out in to dance during Sunday prayers. Why did they do it? Probably because of god. But there is a good chance that all of that backed up sexual tension just manifested itself in the form of funky-freashness.
To cap it all off, they were big fans of that whole celibacy thing, and even went as far as to be against procreation in general. They kept up their numbers via converts and family raised children through adoption. They were probably the most uptight humans on earth. They were also pacifists and were exempt from participating in the Civil War.
Sadly, and slowly, the members began to leave Shaker lands. This happened for many reason, but it was mostly the lure of the big, new cities that drew members away, as well as the inability for the farm produced products to compete with their mass-produced counter parts. Many of the communities eventually closed. Today, there is only one community left, with only 8 final shakers living on it.
Remember that Brook Farm place I mentioned up there? Well, that place received tons of visitors from utopian writers and people that genuinely believe that utopian societies can actually work. Two of such visitors were Bronson Alcott and Charles Lane, who liked what they saw at Brook Farm so much that they started their own utopian commune called Fruitlands in June of 1843 in Harvard, Mass.
To make a political comparison here (which I will elaborate upon in the next entry), Fruitlands was more of a liberal utopia. Fruitlands is basically the kind of "horrible" liberal-run world people like Rush Limbaugh talking about at great length. The members we totally against the ownership of privet property, they were all political anarchists, they were all intense vegetarians, and they preached and practiced free love. None of the members ate or used anything that came from animals; so no honey, no wool, no beeswax, no manure for farming. They so believed in not doing harm to animals that they even planted crops that would do no harm to worms or insects that lived in the soil. To cap it all off, the Fruitland members believed that manual labor inhibited them spiritually. It was a conservative pundit's worst nightmare.
As it should have been expected, they never produced enough crops to feed every member. Their unbalanced diets of fruit and gain left many of its members malnourished and struggling to survive. It was the whole struggling to survive bit that forced many of the members to leave and find a community that actually had, you know, food.
It all shut down in January of 1844.
The Pullman Utopia
As mentioned earlier, there is another side of the political comparison when it comes to these utopian societies. This one is a liberal nightmare, and it's Ayn Rand's fantasy land.
Just south of Chicago in the 1880s there was a man named George Pullman. George was a railway car tycoon that created his own version of a utopian society. This society (which never really had an official name) based all of its ideas and beliefs off of a purely capitalist system. Pullman was the leader and everyone was an employee of his. The community itself was run like a business. Every employee/member was paid with 2 checks: One for rent and the other for everything else. The one for rent went from an employee's hand, directly back to Pullman's pocket. The commune as a whole was run as a for-profit organization that had to bring in a profit margin of 7% annually. The craziest part of it all is that Pullman payed his employees with his own money. And by that I don't mean he payed them with money out of his own pocket. No, he pay them in "Pullman Dollars," his own currency.
To further show those that carefully examine history just how a purely capitalist system just doesn't work, the community eventually, and organically, split into very ridged social classes. All managers and business owners were at the top living in beautiful homes, and the unskilled workers lived in crappy tenement housing.
This, regardless of how horrible it sounds, worked. For a bit. After about 20 years, it all collapsed and it collapsed hard. Pullman's railway company workers went on strike in protest of a wage reduction. This dealt a huge blow to Pullman's cash flow. To make up for the losses, he raised rent on all of his employees. This didn't make the employees very happy.
Once the employees began to forming their own unions, Pullman's utopian society was finished.
I should also note that the area of Chicago this all took place on was founded by Pullman and is actually called Pullman, Illinois. He literally owned the entire town and everyone in it worked for him. But, as the Wikipedia profile for the town of Pullman says best, "The fortunes of the neighborhood rose and fell with the Pullman Company."