The Amish roots trace back to 1525, in Switzerland during the Anabaptist movement. This was of the reformation of the Protestants. A voluntary church and adult baptism that was not controlled by the state was emphasized. Most were baptized when they were infants and because of this they were called Anabaptists or rebaptizers. Until 1693, when their own group was formed in Switzerland, they were included in this movement. Jakob Ammann was the Amish’s first leader which is where the Amish name comes from. The Amish live in Ontario and in thirty states in America. About sixty-four percent reside in three states in the U.S.: Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
Most of the different Amish groups share some of their practices: they reject public utility electric, use horses and buggies for transportation, prohibit computers and television, dress distinctively, men have beards, no education after eighth grade, meet in homes alternating Sundays for worship, and live in rural areas. Technology is used selectively as they choose certain technologies which serve their communities rather than weaken them. What is permitted widely varies as the technology that is accepted is decided upon by the church. Generally, the Amish accept technologies such as inline skates and chain saws, and reject television and computers. Cultural values play a role in what technology is accepted in most Amish groups. For example, some may use turn signals on carriages and steel wheels on farm equipment.
Most of the Amish, regardless of the state they lived in, lived on farms. The farms were diversified, small operations with chickens, cows, and only a small amount of beef cattle. Some do continue the tradition; however, farms are more specialized now. These specialized farms have dairy cows, and some even have hogs and/or chickens. The specialized farms are also more mechanized with the use of mechanical milkers and cooling tanks. Traditional farmers still milk cows by hand then ship the canned milk to cheese plants.
Farming still plays a role in the lives of the Amish but many of the Amish are abandoning their plows. The largest changes in Amish culture have taken place over the last century as less than ten percent of Amish households make their money from farming. Regardless of their involvement in commerce and business growing, Amish people remain specifically in rural areas and many of them combine hobby farming with work off the farm. Recent decades have seen hundreds of shops owned by the Amish open in a lot of communities. Most tend to be small, family owned businesses and employ less than ten people. Most of these businesses create wood products such as outdoor and household furniture, small barns, lawn ornaments, and gazebos, but also successful are bakeries, quilt shops, and greenhouses. The smaller, home-based shops are very profitable and annual sales for larger businesses may surpass millions of dollars.
The Amish are very self-sufficient and because their lives are so different from that of those who live around them, people find their lifestyle intriguing. Many Amish communities allow for guided tours as long as their wishes and beliefs are respected. By allowing tours in their communities, many of their businesses profit. Tourists can visit and purchase many Amish handmade items such as dolls, quilts, furniture, and other unique items.
To learn more about the Amish community, visit the following resources:
- The Amish in Northern Indiana
- Pieced in the Plains: Kansas Amish Quilts and Cultural Adaptation
- Valued Amish Possessions: Expanding Material Culture and Consumption
- The Amish Adapt
- The Amish in Missouri
- PBS Special: The Amish
- Myths and Mysteries of the Amish/Mennonite World PDF
- Who Are the Amish?
- Folk Art Museum: Amish Hummingbird Quilt
- Amish Technology: Choosing Machines for Building Communities and Reinforcing Values
- Stock-Drawn Equipment for Trail Work PDF
- Amish Lifestyle
- The Amish Culture and Farming Practices PDF
- Wood Use by Ohio’s Amish PDF
- Technological Prudence: What the Amish Can Teach Us PDF