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Who was Robert Owen?

Updated on December 3, 2016

Robert Owen (1771-1858), was born in Newtown, Wales, and went to London as a boy to work in a draper's shop. He moved to Manchester and at twenty had his own spinning mill; later he became sole manager and co-partner of New Lanark cotton mills in Scotland .

The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and Owen became concerned about workers' long hours and low wages. He introduced many reforms, such as better housing, improved pay, a company shop and a school that was run on remarkably progressive lines. He had much to do with the passing of the Factory Act (1819), but his reforms and skeptical views on religion aroused opposition, which finally caused him to leave New Lanark in 1828. He had been in America earlier, in 1825, when he founded New Harmony, an ideal community in Indiana, bu t it failed, as did similar projects elsewhere. From 1829 to 1834 he helped to promote the co-operative movement and then tried to set up a great national trades union federation.

Towards the end of his life most of his projects failed, he lost all his money and came to be looked on as a crank. He was in fact a reformer ahead of his time and most of his ideas have since been accepted . He has been called 'the father of British Socialism'.


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