History of Utopian Founder George Rapp Part 2

About utopian founder George Rapp, history and biography of the creator of Harmony.


GEORGE RAPP (1757-1847)

Rapp and his natural son John never got along. When John died at a young age, it was rumored that his death was the result of an infection that set in after his father castrated him for sinning. But this is not in keeping with what we know of Rapp's personality; he was said to be charismatic rather than dictatorial, benevolent rather than cruel. Moreover, an autopsy showed that John died of a chest injury sustained from lifting grain at the community store.

Rapp himself died at 90, but Harmony lived on after him.

His Utopia: HARMONY

After a move to Indiana, the people of Harmony returned to Pennsylvania and established their third settlement at Economy (now Ambridge), Pa. The community was self-sufficient, communist, and financially successful. In its heyday, it included the Golden Rule Distillery, a piggery, a soap-boiling house, a vinegar factory, a sawmill, silk factories (the Rappites' Sunday best was all made of homegrown silk), and a cutlery shop in Beaver Falls that employed 200 Chinese. The Rappites used labor-saving machinery when they could; they were the first in the New World to use a steam engine for energy, though Rapp was afraid of it.

Some time after the community was established, the group decided to become celibate, largely for practical reasons. With too many children, they felt, it was impossible to be self-sufficient. Besides, the millennium was coming, and there was no reason for them to reproduce themselves.

The Rappites took what they needed from a common storehouse, and each family, which was comprised of from four to eight adults, had its own garden and cooked for itself. Tailors and shoemakers took it upon themselves to keep an eye on the members to make sure they were well clothed and had good shoes on their feet.

In 1831 a snake came into their Garden of Eden. His name was Bernhard Muller, and he called himself Count Maximilian de Leon. An exotic, far from a Rappite type, he liked wild parties, sex, and good times. He awakened in some of the members a long-dormant hunger for the sinful pleasures of life. Then he began a campaign against celibacy, which came finally to a vote: 250 voted to end it, and 500 voted to stick with it. The 250 dissenters left the community with a fair share of its worth--$105,000--and went to Phillipsburg, Pa., where, with the help of the count, they soon spent the money and disbanded.

It was not until 1898, after 69 years of existence, that the society was dissolved, probably of old age like its founder.

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