History of Utopian Founder Josiah Warren Part 1

About utopian founder Josiah Warren, history and biography of the creator of the utopia Modern Times.


JOSIAH WARREN (1798-1874)

A short, stocky man with bright blue eyes and nervous gestures, Josiah Warren was described by a contemporary as "one who was not deluged with negation, but amused by a troop of novel thoughts and fancies, which to him were controlling convictions." Those thoughts and fancies did not stay locked up in Warren's unusually inventive mind; instead, the archetype of the practical Yankee, he clothed them in reality. For example, he invented a lard-burning lamp (and manufactured it), an original system of music notation, a low-cost method of making bricks, and two printing mechanisms for which other men got the credit. He organized and ran a unique store based on some of his theories; he cleared forests, built houses, taught school, wrote books, and began three anarchist utopian communities, the most famous of which was Modern Times on Long Island, begun in 1851.

Warren came from a long line of hardy New Englanders. At 20, he married and went to Cincinnati, where he started his lamp factory. Almost as soon as that was going nicely, he visited Robert Owen's utopia, New Harmony, became intrigued with it, and sold the factory in order to join. His infatuation with New Harmony lasted only about a year; he was too much of an anarchist at heart to tolerate the colony's authoritarianism and communal living arrangements. A believer in what he called "individual sovereignty" (the right of everyone to do as he chooses), he once said of communists: "Moths flitting around a lamp, they seem to learn nothing from their hurt, disabled, and prostrate companions and never know that the flame can kill till it is too late to profit by the knowledge."

Bothered by the unfairness of the economic practices of his time, he stated that cost should be the limit of price, and to put this idea into practice he founded his first Time Store. The prices of the items in his store reflected a 7% markup and a fee for the actual time the storekeeper spent in selling them, which was measured precisely on a timer dial. The Time Store became a labor market, too, with "money" in the form of labor notes (promises to perform services), for which the standard was corn. (At one point, 16 lb. of corn was equal to an hour's average labor.) "Prices" for labor varied according to unpleasantness and difficulty; for example, a blacksmith made more than a physician.

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