Amana Colonies today - pictured here are original farm implements
and one of the many of the traditional Amana buildings that have
courtesy of the Amana Colonies Convention and Visitors Bureau
At the turn of the 21st century, the Community of True Inspiration
is approaching its 300th year of existence although the Amana of today
differs from that of a century before. By the 1930s, the communal system
in Amana had generated stresses which it could not resolve. Many community
members found the rules associated with communal living to be petty
and overly restrictive. Regulations governed most aspects of daily life
including dining, dress and leisure activities. Many young people wanted
to be free to play baseball, to own musical instruments or to bob their
hair in the new style. Families wanted to eat together at home rather
than in the communal kitchen dining rooms. Although members received
an annual spending allowance, many people felt theirs was inadequate
and were frustrated by their inability to enjoy more material goods.
Increasingly the elders were unable to enforce the rules.
In 1931, the community found
itself in a crisis. In addition to the social strains of communal living,
the community had suffered several economic setbacks in the previous decade.
The Amana Society had lost an important source of revenue when its calico
print works closed after World War I. A fire in 1923 extensively damaged
the woolen mill and completely destroyed the Amana flour mill. And the
national economic depression had shrunk the market for the Society's agricultural
Amana Woolen Mill, c.1920, before it was damaged by fire three years
courtesy of the Amana Heritage Society
The Elders presented the membership of the community with a choice:
either they could return to a more austere and disciplined life or they
could abandon the communal system. Significantly, dissolution of the
church was not considered as an alternative. But most members also recognized
that their community had changed and that they were probably incapable
of returning to the strict life of early communalism. Many people no
longer equated their faith with the social mores dictated by the Community.
Furthermore, many members felt that communalism itself was no longer
necessary tenet of faith of the church. On June 1st, 1932, the members
elected to retain the traditional church as it was, and to create a joint-stock
company (Amana Society, Inc.) for the business enterprises to be operated
for profit by a Board of Directors. This separation of the church from
the economic functions of the community--the abandonment of communalism--is
referred to by Amana residents still today as "the Great Change."
Headquarters of the newly established
Amana Society, Inc., c.1936
from "Seven Villages Practicing Modified Capitalism,"
printed by the Amana Society in 1936
Today, the Amana Society, Inc., corporate heir to the land and economic
assets of communal Amana, continues to own and manage some 26,000 acres
of farm, pasture and forest land. Agriculture remains an important economic
base today just as it was in communal times. Because the land was not
divided up with the end of communalism the landscape of Amana still
reflects its communal heritage. In addition, over 450 communal-era buildings
stand in the seven villages--vivid reminders of the past.
The most widely known business that emerged
from the Amana Society is Amana Refrigeration, Inc. This national leader
in the production of refrigerators was founded by an Amana native, George
C. Foerstner at the time of the Great Change. The first beverage cooler,
designed for a businessman in nearby Iowa City in 1934, was built by skilled
craftsmen at the Middle Amana woolen mill. In the decades that followed,
the mill became the site of this large, now private, plant producing refrigerators,
freezers, air conditioners, and in 1967 introduced a new product--the
Amana Radarange Microwave Oven. Today, the 19th-century woolen mill smoke
stack still rises over the modern plant.
Aerial view of the Amana Refrigeration
plant in the 1970s, note the narrow brick smoke stack rising
above the plant buildings
Photograph from "The Amana Colonies,"
printed by the Amana Society in 1974
The Amana Church continues to be a vital part of the Amana community.
A visitor to Amana today would do well to visit an Inspirationist cemetery.
Surrounded by pine trees to symbolize eternal life, the cemeteries continue
to express the Inspirationist ethos of equality, humility and simplicity.
As they have been for over 140 years, members are buried in order of
death with plain, uniform headstones. Like the cemeteries, the Amana
churches are much as they were when built 125 years ago. The building
exteriors are unpretentious; no steeple or
colored-glass windows declare that the edifice is a house of God. Inside,
the unfinished wood floors, plain pine benches and unadorned walls echo
the tradition of humility and piety. Men still enter and sit on one side
of a central aisle; women on the other. Worshippers come early for quiet
contemplation. English language services were introduced in 1960, but
in both German and English services the order of worship has changed little
over the years: a reading from Scripture; a reading from a testimony from
Rock, Metz or Landmann; hymns that would be recognized by a congregation
of a century earlier.
Interior of the Community Church Museum,
which still retains its unfinished wood floors, plain pine benches
and unadorned walls
by Shannon Bell
Today, heritage tourism has become important to the economy of the
Amana area. Historic preservation efforts by several local nonprofit
organizations, as well as the Amana Society, Inc. in conjunction with
land-use and historic preservation ordinances attempt to preserve the
natural and built environment of Amana.