Robert Owen (1771–1858) was known as the ‘Father of Co-operation’ and of British socialism. He was born in Newtown, in Wales and worked in London and Manchester before becoming the manager of the mills of the New Lanark Twist Company in 1800. While in New Lanark he developed his theory of character formation, his ideas on the education of children and the improvement of working conditions – such as the reduction of working hours and the introduction of sick pay. Owen believed strongly in the importance of education for the formation of the character.
In 1825, along with his son, Robert Dale Owen, Owen travelled to America to set up a new community, New Harmony in the state of Indiana, that he hoped would be as successful as New Lanark. However, the community did not flourish and Owen returned to England in 1829. After his return, he became interested in aspects of co-operation and labour exchanges. To this day Owen remains an extremely influential figure within the co-operative movement worldwide. Right up to the end of his life, Owen continued to write and lecture on social issues.
Owen was a prolific writer – in addition to the letters, the Archive holds books, pamphlets and journals by and about him.