Harmony Society collection, 1838-1935


Collection Overview

Harmony Society collection
Dates (Inclusive):
Harmony Society
Originally called Harmonie Society, members from Germany arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1780s. Relocated to New Harmony, Indiana, in 1814, they returned in 1825, settling permanently in Economy, Pennsylvania, near Ambridge. The society dissolved itself in 1905 after membership declined.
The Harmony Society Collection consists of letters, photographs, and newspaper and magazine clippings about this utopian society and members John Duss, Jacob Henrici, Jonathan Lenz, George and Gertrude Rapp, and Maria Wilson.
Collection Number:
0.48 Cubic feet
42 items
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the  library catalog.
Special Collections Library. Pennsylvania State University.

Biographical or Historical Note

The Harmony Society was founded in the 1780s by Johann George Rapp (1757-1847) and his adopted son, Frederick Rapp (1775-1834). Originally founded in Württemberg, Germany, the Harmony Society soon found their Anabaptist beliefs at odds with the state-directed Lutheran Church. Seeking greater spiritual and religious freedom, George Rapp and his son Johann led his followers to the United States in 1803. By 1804, the Rapps purchased 3000 acres in Butler, Pennsylvania, and began to develop it for the Harmony Society. More followers of Rapp arrived to the United States and by February 15, 1805, the Harmony Society was officially formed by George Rapp, Johann Rapp, and George's adopted son Frederick.

The Harmony Society soon founded the town of Harmony, Pennsylvania. Member's property was held in common. While practicing a life of spiritual and worldly separation, the Harmony Society proved to be very successful economically. By 1814, the Harmonists boasted a village of 130 houses, 3,000 acres of farming, a thriving livestock herd, and many buildings for their industrial enterprises. By the end of 1814, the Harmonists sold Harmony, with its buildings, industries, and 7,000 acres of land and moved to New Harmony, Indiana. There, they established a second village and community on 25,000 acres along the Wabash River. The second Harmony Society village became more successful in their business and economical pursuits in the Midwest than in Pennsylvania. Notwithstanding their success, the Harmonists eventually moved again in 1824, and settled in Economy, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The settlement at Economy proved to be the Harmonists greatest endeavor and included a church, a music hall, working farms, factories, and storehouses.

The Harmony Society exerted a major influence on the economy of western Pennsylvania and amassed a large sum of assets and land including over a half million dollars in gold stored in Rapp's house in Economy. Their economical gain was not intended for worldly display but rather to support their millennial preaching of the quickly approaching end of time. Their monetary and economical gains did not overcome their religious beliefs about the separation between worldly and spiritual goods. Rather, the vow of celibacy among members prevented growth from within the society and led to the Harmony Society's declension. The Society officially disbanded in 1904, a century after they started their search for religious freedom and establishment in America.

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Collection Overview

The collection includes letters, photographs, and newspaper (the society's Bulletin Index) and magazine clippings, mainly about this utopian society after its move to Economy, Pennsylvania. Subjects include members and leaders John Duss, Jacob Henrici, and Jonathan Lenz. Correspondents include founder George Rapp, and his granddaughter, Gertrude Rapp, and recipient Maria Wilson, Washington, PA.

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Collection Arrangement

The collection is arranged into three series: Correspondence, Newspaper clippings, and Photographs.

The Correspondence series includes signed autograph letters to Messrs, Wilson and Shields, Washington, Pa, on August 4, 1837, referring to a financial transaction and an offer of sale of ewes and rams, and a letter by George Rapp to Mrs. Maria Wilson, Washington, on September 2, 1847. Other letters include a letter by Gertrude Rapp, George Rapp's granddaughter, describing the last illness and death of her grandfather, and the affairs of the Society since his death; and announcements of the death of founder George Rapp, the succession of Brother Jacob Henrici to his position, and the election of Brother Jonathan Lenz as a fellow Trustee.

The newspaper clippings date primarily from 1890-1935, and are organized in a scrapbook and as a collection of the Harmony Society newspaper, Bulletin Index. The clippings provide contemporary accounts of the death of their leader and patriarch, Father Jacob Henrici, the bitter lawsuits over the affairs of the Society under his successor, John Duss, and the dissension that marked the final days of the Harmony Society at Economy over the disposition of the property.

The photographs are undated. They depict the landscape of the settlements, and feature portraits of Harmony Society members outside of their homes.

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

Copyright,where it persists, is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Harmony Society collection, RBM 1589, Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

Processing Information

Processed by Timothy Babcock and Allison Busacca, 2006.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Harmony Society


  • Photographic

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Collection Inventory

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