Saturday December 20, 2014
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14-032 Robert Owen I

Saturday Dec 20, 2014

Lead: 19th-century British social reformer and business tycoon Robert Owen is considered the father of the cooperative movement and, ironically, an early inspiration to labor and trade unions.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Robert Owen was born in 1771 in Newton, Wales, the youngest son of Anne Williams and Robert Owen, a saddle maker and postmaster of the town. Young Owen was bright and curious, loved to read and actually enjoyed going to school as a young boy. At the age of ten, he was sent to London to join his older brother and was apprenticed to a draper, a cloth merchant, whose family treated the boy well and encouraged him to continue his reading.

By the time Owen was 18, with a combination of savings and some loans, he began investing in spinning machines and two years later became manager of a large textile mill in Manchester. He remained there for 13 years while he established a reputation for success in business, and in intellectual circles, success as a fairly radical thinker. His ideas about creating better living and labor conditions for workers, many of whom were children, were in stark contrast to prevailing attitudes in the early years of the industrial revolution.

In 1799, Owen and his partners purchased New Lanark Mills in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, on the River Clyde. Two thousand people were employed by the mill, including several hundred children, all living and working in harsh conditions. This environment served as an ideal setting for Owen to experiment with humanitarian reforms and modernization of the mills. He was convinced that workers could be brought out of poverty through improved shop conditions, decent accommodations, and access to education.

Next time: A Legacy of Success and Failure

Research assistance by Ann Johnson, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.


Podmore, Frank. Robert Owen: A Biography. Honolulu, Hawaii: University Press of the Pacific, 2004.

“Robert Owen and His Legacy.” International Associations of Labour History Institutions. 13 March 2008

Sargant, William Lucas. Robert Owen, and His Social Philosophy. New York: Elibron, 2005.

Copyright 2014 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.


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