Why Was Robert Owen Important?

Robert Owen was important as a pioneer in the idea of a co-operative, Utopian society. He was a leader in the British Socialist movement and developed workplace changes and educational reforms, introducing arts education, adult education and early childhood education.

Owen, born in 1771, bought the New Lanark Mills and made radical changes to benefit his employees. He reduced the number of hours worked in a day and set a minimum wage. He also worked to update and improve the living conditions of his workers. Instead of using taxes to fund free education, he had the profits of the New Lanark Mill's company store fund the village's school.

In the village's school system, he set up classes for adults as well as classes for children under the age of six. He felt students should learn the arts, not just reading, writing and arithmetic. Owen's grand vision in New Lanark failed over time, prompting him to bring his vision to America in 1824. He set up the same co-operative system in Indiana, and called the town New Harmony. However this Utopian society failed, and he returned to Britain in 1828.

Owen continued to expound his beliefs on how to better society until his death in 1854. He helped create two groups: the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union and the Association of All Classes and All Nations.