Introduction to Ceresco
The history of the community of Ceresco is a fascinating look into the experimental communities of the 19th century. Using this site and the UW Oshkosh Archives and Area Research Center, you could create a successful National History Project about this unique story.
What was Ceresco?
Ceresco, part of present day Ripon, Wisconsin, was founded as a utopian community in 1843. Founder Warren B. Chase and his associates aimed to create what they thought would be a perfect society based on the concept of French philosopher Charles Fourier. Originally, the village flourished under the leadership of Chase throughout the 1840s before it collapsed at the beginning of the 1850s.
Who was Charles Fourier?
Charles Fourier was a French utopian socialist born in 1772. Utopians believe that a perfect society can exist in the world we live in if certain rules and behaviors change. He envisioned people living in small villages of 1600 people, all sharing the responsibility of its upkeep equally. His philosophy expressed equal rights for men and women, tolerance of religion, communal living and limited commerce.
Most socialists continue to believe property and industrial activity should be owned and regulated by the community as a whole. Their beliefs extend to the economy and social makeup of the population. Fourerites kept these principles in mind when creating their villages, known as phalanxes, and while they might have appeared socialist on the outside, they were meant to spur capitalism within the community.
The phalanx system followed an elaborate economic scheme which involved the use of shares that were purchased somewhat similarly to those of the stock market. Instead of using cash at the phalanx, the shares were used to distribute certain types of goods to individuals and families on the phalanx.
Phalanxes were supposed to allow for individual happiness and economic prosperity for the community as a whole. However, it was largely the pursuit of individual financial interests that led these settlements’ collapse. Investigating the history of the Wisconsin Phalanx at Ceresco helps reveal how something so promising to the followers proved too good to be true.