Robert Owen was a factory owner who wanted to improve the health and well-being of his workers. His ideas made him world famous and influenced a better society.
Who was he?
- Robert was born in Wales on 14 May 1771.
- He left school aged ten to train as a draper or cloth merchant ( a merchant is someone who trades in goods made by other people). A draper's shop would sell cloth for people to buy and make their own clothing.
- At 21 he was managing a cotton mill in Manchester.
- Owen saw working people had a very hard life and thought they would work more productively if they had better welfare and were happier.
- At New Lanark mill in Scotland he gave workers shorter days, free healthcare and education from childhood to adulthood.
- His belief in improving the lives of workers helped improve conditions in workplaces all over the world.
- He later moved to America to start up new working communities.
- Robert Owen died in Wales on 17 November 1858 aged 87.
Why is Owen so important?
Owen believed working people deserved kinder treatment. He thought if all people had a better quality of life, it would create a better, happier society.
To make workers' lives better Owen introduced the following ideas at New Lanark:
- Free education system for everyone including:
- A creche for working mothers
- The first infant school in the world
- A school for children with enjoyable lessons and no punishments!
- Evening classes and lectures for adults
- Free medical care
- Children under 10 were not allowed to work in the mill.
- The village shop became the model for cooperatives, offering cheaper goods for workers with profits going back into the community.
- Shorter working days
- Leisure and recreation - free concerts, dancing, music-making and pleasant outdoor space