Technological and Cultural Innovations in Intentional Community

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Allen Butcher:

"There are a number of factors which make intentional communities fertile environments for innovations of all kinds, from interpersonal and group relationship patterns to technological inventions.

The list of utilitarian inventions in community begins with Dolores Hayden’s identification of three strengths of the collective, which typically include,

… a high level of education, group support for unusual ideas, and rotation of jobs to encourage recognition of analogous design problems. (Hayden 1976, p. 197)

Hayden provides the following list of inventions in intentional community (in many cases other inventors originated similar ideas):

• circular saw – Tabitha Babbit, a Shaker at Watervliet, Ohio (who recognized that putting teeth on a spinning wheel used to make yarn would cut wood)

• removable window sashes for easy cleaning, round ovens for even cooking, conical stoves for heating irons – Shakers

• rotary web press and stereotyping devices – Josiah Warren, Modern Times, Long Island, NY

• repeating rifle – Jonathan Browning, Mormon

• animal traps – Sewell Newhouse, Oneida Community (became a community business which evolved into the manufacture of Oneida silverware)

• lazy susan (tables fitted with a spinable surface so that food may be turned rather than passed) – Oneida Community

• institutional potato peeler, washing machine and mop wringer – Oneida Community (devised by carpenters who, due to the community policy of job rotation to areas in which they would not otherwise work, applied their skills to finding ways to make that work efficient and enjoyable) (Hayden 1976, pp. 24-5, 198)

The Shakers in particular were very inventive, among their innovations being a machine for cutting metal nails, a lathe, flat broom, clothes pin, brimstone match, and a water turbine propeller (or screw propeller). The Shaker round barns are very distinctive, they developed and produced many medicinal herb remedies, and their utilitarian furniture designs have become valuable Shaker antiques. The best source on Shaker innovations is E. D. Andrews’ books, The People Called Shakers and The Community Industries of the Shakers. (Oved, p. 52; see also Berry, p. 38)

The Kibbutz movement in Israel invented drip irrigation for dry-land agriculture, and presumably originated many other inventions in their plastic factories. Members of East Wind Community in Missouri invented a sandal made from polypropelene twisted-fiber rope called the “Utopian Sandal,” and the community freely offers it as a handcraft or cottage business to anyone interested, with each producer originating their own product name. Undoubtedly, there are many other enduring inventions made in community for which documentation may yet become available." (