Who are the Amish?
The Plain People, originated in Switzerland in 1525 during the protestant reformation. Their forefathers, the Anabaptist, were a third denomination of Christianity during that era (in addtion to Catholic and Protestant). The name Anabaptist is literally translated again-baptizers and was given to them by their religious opponents. The Anabaptist in Europe were fiercely opposed by other sects because of their insistence that Christian baptism is for consenting adults only, (as opposed to infant baptism), because of their commitment to non-violence, and because of their strict adherence to non-participation in government and warfare. Since adult baptism was a crime in 16th century Europe, many were beheaded, burned at the stake, or were put into sacks and thrown into rivers. There are no Amish left in Europe.
Move to the "New World"
In about 1720 a Swiss religious leader by the name of Jakob Amann brought his people to the "New World ", to William Penn’s safe haven of Pennsylvania to be exact. They became know as the "Amish," after their leader's name Amman. His belief was that plain living brings, or I might say "keeps" them closer to God. In the 1830's and between 1860's and 1892, more large waves of German immigrants left, due to over population and a desire for religious freedom. Many in this second wave saved enough money to travel as far as the Midwest and buy land.
Now, as then, a strong and deep seated religious faith shapes the world and lifestyles of the Amish. They express that value system by their use of horse and buggy, simple dress and a strong sense of community and family. The thing that best helps us relate or understand "The Old Amish Tradition," is their belief in a simpler lifestyle. The television, automobiles, and electricity, bring with them certain temptations and also undermine the value they place on family and community. The "Old Order Amish," still hold on to their traditions, and self-sufficient lifestyles.
The family unit is very important to the Amish... many have as many as seven to ten children. The Amish family traditionally worked together farming the land with giant teams of Belgian horses. But, with the changing economic scene in rural America requiring increasingly larger amounts of venture capital, larger machinery and larger plots of land, some Amish have turned to other occupations like carpentry and furniture building. All families still maintain large vegetable gardens where they grown their own food. Amish work hard and long hours creating a good living from God's green earth, practicing a life of hard work, thrift, and self-sufficiency. The success in farming they attribute to God's divine blessing. Farming became important to the Amish after being persecuted in Europe, it became a means of survival. Amish families today may have cattle, pigs, and chickens, the wife cans items from the garden such as green beans, corn, tomatoes, beets, also canning fruits for pies apples, cherries, peaches, and making applesauce, jams, and jellies, and in the winter making quilts. The husband may make a set of kitchen cabinets in his shop during the winter. Self-sufficient may be an understatement regarding the Amish.
These shops, which dot the Amish countryside, are characterized as being located right next to house where the Amish family lives who owns the shop. They are staffed by men and women, who in many cases, have been raised in or around the shop. The men normally begin their craftmanship careers as little boys who like to built their "own projects" with scraps of leftover wood from the shop. They will eventually take a job in the shop at a young age (Amish children only complete eight grades of schooling).
Being taught, from a young age, diligence, good work habits, frugality, and the importance of quality, ensures that these people will continue to produce some of the finest, most competitivley priced furniture on the market today! For them, manufacturing furniture is more than an occupation, it has become a livelihood.
The Amish style of dress has the purpose of being "plain" or "simple" that reflects the literal interpretation of the Bible. A set of unwritten Amish laws, the "Ordnung", addresses behavior, appearance and other traditions and beliefs. Amish men wear dark straight cut coats with no lapels, trousers with suspenders, solid colored shirts, black socks and shoes, and hats that are black or straw with broad rims. Shirts that fasten with conventional buttons, Suit coats and vests that use hooks and eyes. Amish women wear solid-colored fabric usually with long-sleeves and full skirts, between the knee and calf, covered with aprons or capes. Women's clothes are fastened with snaps or straight pins. The hair is never cut but worn in a bun on the back of the head, concealed by a white prayer covering. They take the Bible literally where it says that women should wear a covering or prayer veil in church... 1 Corinthians 11:6 “For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.”
Amish children attend small, rural, parochial schools until the eighth grade level. They feel that higher education will negate against their ideal of a simple life. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court exempted them from the state attendance beyond the eighth grade level. The Amish society is, in it's self, a trade-school of sorts. It trains their young people in the fine art of craftsmanship in fine cabinetry, furniture, carpentry, farming, and last but not least homemakers. An Amish girl that is twelve years old knows how to cook a meal for a whole crew of workers, and the young Amish boy knows a farming operation by the time he is a teenager. The Amish build and maintain their own church funded one room schoolhouses. The children study reading, and writing, mathematics, geography, history, English, German, music, art, and the Bible. The Amish have no unemployment among them.
Horse and Buggy
Perhaps no item identifies The Amish like the horse and buggy. This has been maintained as a matter of Christian discipleship by the most conservative "Old Order Amish." Although they do not feel that vehicles are inherently wrong, they refuse to own automobiles, and by doing so the amount of travel is limited thus avoiding many temptations and creating a stronger sense of community. They use public transportation, and will hire cars and vans for special needs. Buggy shops today make wheels, axles, tops, hardware, employing craftsman that continue in the fine art of horse-drawn transportation.