Demise of the Wisconsin Phalanx

Many factors in the fall of the Wisconsin Phalanx can be identified. Some garner greater attention than others, with various historians, researchers and contemporary newspapers all offering theories.

Thirty five years after its collapse, the Chicago Times, in 1885, investigated the history of Ceresco and concluded the cause of its failure came down to the simple fact that its citizens were not united. The article also suggested the Cerescans were blinded by the basic desire for money. Some researchers support the financial theory more than others.

Many individuals followed Fourier's principles when the phalanx was created, but soon realized the rules were nearly impossible to live by. They gradually became less and less devoted to the reasons for which they originally created the village. Some citizens became restless due to the repetitiveness of daily life and wished for a change. While the phalanx appears to have remained financially successful until its end, it could not withstand the nature of the real world.

Local historian Samuel Pedrick studied the Wisconsin Phalanx extensively. He explained that the atmosphere transformed greatly as the phalanx became more industrially advanced. What started as a cooperative system turned into that of a corporation. He suggested that this transformation outweighed all other reasons for the end of Ceresco. Individuals saw the value of their property was increasing and wished to profit more from it. Pedrick also suggested that others joined the association of the phalanx simply to obtain cheap land, not because of their dedication to Fourier. Over time some members developed money concerns and were forced into selling their phalanx stocks, while others left Ceresco behind for the Gold Rush of 1849.

In addition to the monotony of work and the desire of members for a share of profits there are other less investigated theories of the communities demise. Religious division, marital unfaithfulness and infidelity, and the rise of Ripon as a strong and attractive neighbor are all potential contributors. Also, the role of women played an important part in the history of the community. Visit that section for additional information.

Primary Source

The following poem details many different aspects of Ceresco life with an emphasis on why it collapsed. It also compares life in Ripon in 1934 to that of the 1840s, making it a primary source for either generation. Use the link to decide if the poem describes new reasons for Ceresco's demise.

Robert Rashid
Ceresco, A Poetic Story, 1934

Oshkosh SC 94
UW Oshkosh Archives and Area Research Center


Here is the 1885 article from the Chicago Times. It can be considred a primary source, but might not be considered as credible as a source from the 1840s. It explains many facets of phalanx life, not just why it collapsed.

September 26, 1885
Ceresco, History of a Famous Social Experiment
Chicago Times


Table of Contents

1. Development
2. Geography and Physical Description
3. Rules and Regulations
4. Labor
5. Women of Ceresco
6. Religion at the Phalanx
7. Demise of the Wisconsin Phalanx

Other Resources

Recommendations for Ceresco Research Questions and Projects

Annotated Bibliography