Advertisements: Oneida Comminity Silverplate 1942

Figure 1.--This advertisement for Community Silverplate was published in 1942 during World War II. It hardly looks like a World War II ad. Along with bride and groom are the flower girl and ring bearer. The ring bearer wears a black suit with an Eton collar, but withoit white gloves.

Oneida has one of the most fascinatinng corporate hostories of any American conmpany. Oneida is best as a manufacturer of table silverwear, but the early Oneida Community did much more. It was one og the ealy socialist comminities established in America during the early 19thu century. This advertisement for Community Silverplate was published in 1942 during World War II. It hardly looks like a World War II ad. Along with bride and groom are the flower girl and ring bearer. The ring bearer wears a black suit with an Eton collar. The Eton collar had virtually disappeared in America by the 1940s, but younger boys for formal opccassions might still wear them. HBC finds it fascinating, considering the rejection of traditgional marriage that Oneida silver services became a standard wedding gift for very traditional Americam marriages.

Clothing in the Advertisement

The children in this advertisement are clearly dressed for a wedding. Presumably they are the flower firl and ring bearer. The boy wears a bkack suit with an Eton collar, but without white gloves. He wears a black necktie. Often boys this age wore Eton suits without neckties. Notice that the little girl wears colored gloves and her dress has a large bow in the back. The Eton collar had virtually disappeared in America by the 1940s, but younger boys for formal opccassions might still wear them. We have seen a few images with boys wearing Eton collars other than for very formal wear, but they were increasinly rare by 18942 and virtually never seen after the end if the War in 1945. Even for formal wear the Eton collar gradually gave wear to the Peter Pan collar.

Wedding Silver Set

The little boy in the ad, asks his sister, "Is this why she said its the hapiest day of her life?" The ad copy replies, "No it isn't, children--but it might as well be as that for Community brides are lucky brides as every woman knows--lucky because if it's Comminity its correct, lucky because Community is built to last a life time. Handsome service in feee anti-tarnish chest stars as low as $31.65 (Federal tax included). HBC finds it fascinating, consideriung the rejection of traditgional marriage that Oneida silver services became a standard wedding gift for very traditional Americam marriages.

The Oneida Community

Oneida is a recognized industrial concern in the United States. Its heritage is very different from other American industrial concerns which were organized on the basis of the limited corporation created by Alexander Hamilton when he founded the first National Bank of the United States. The origins of Oneida are religious, utopian, and socialistic.

John Humphrey Noyes

John Humphrey Noyes was the moving force behind the founding of Oneida Community. His vision began not only as a religious concept,but a blueprint from compldtelya new world order. The Oneida Community developed out of the "Society of Inquiry" established by Noyes and some of his disciples in Putney, Vermong during 1841. As new recruits arrived, the society developed as a socialized community. Noyes had a profound religious experience at a religious revival in 1831 and vecame a committed Christain. He was 20 years old at the time. He gave up his law studies and enrolled at the Andover Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School. He believed in the doctrine of perfectionism. He thought That Jesus had returned to Earth and completed his work of saving Christians from the necesity of sin. This meant that after conversion one was free of sin. This was not a widely accepted principle and, as a result, after graduation, was not ordanined.


America at the mid-19th century was beong swept by a wave of revivalism. While Europe was being swept by Revolution, revovalists all over America were attracting large crowds to tent meetings to hear speakers preeching the Gospels and salvation. The revivalist belief in a new coming of Christ was at its height in 1847.

Putney, Vermont

Noyes in 1847 proclaimed that the Spirit of Christ had earlier returned to Earth and had now entered into his group at Putney, Vermont. This proclamation, together with the practice of a new Complex marriage, aroused considerable hostility in the surrounding community.

Oneida, New York

Noyes this departed Putney and founded a new community at Oneida, in upstate New York during 1848. The Oneida Community was a socialist society based on Noyes' theology of Perfectionism. Noyes was convinced that Socialism without religion was impossible. His concepyt of Christianity had two basic values: self-perfection and communalism. These approaches were seen as freeing man from the necessity of sin.

Communal Property

These basic ideas were translated into everyday life. Members had to renounce personal property. This was accomplished through a socialist vision--shared property and work. In this, the Oneida Comminity was similar to some of the other utopian socities such as the Shakers. The Comminity government was conducted by committe through weekly public meetings.

Complex Marriage

Noyes' vision also included renouncing binding personal relationships like marriage. This is what set Oneida apart. Noyes conceived what he called Complex marriage. This meant that every woman was the wife of every man and every man was the husband of every woman. He also believed that the extended family system which he conceived could defeat basic human selfishness and make perfectionism on Earth possible. Members were allowed to cohabit. Conception was, however, theoretically by comminity leaders. Noyes and his desciples were influenced by the new belief in eugenics that was developing in America and Europe. The goal was to produce and raise inteligent, healthy children. Noyes insisted that monogamous marriage be abolished. Children were raised communally from age 2 until age 12. We have no information at this time on how the children were dressed. The Community provided the children technical and even professional training.


The Oneida Community's early child care system freed the women fully participate along with men in the Community's manufacturing of steel animal traps, chains, silk items, and silver knives, forks, and spoons. The Oneida Community was not just known not only for the unconventional lifestyle of its members, but for the hogh quality of the goods it prodyced. One of the most famous items was the Newhouse trap which was invented by Noyes himself. The Oneida Community thrived for about 30 years on thephilosophical basis under which it was founded. Eventually the Community turned from farming and logging to industrial pursuits. This included the Newhouse trap. Other activities included canning fruits and vegetables, and the making of silk embroidery floss.


As in Vermont, the surrouding community gradually became histile to the Comminity. The primary matter of concern was the Perfectionists' marriage and child care arrangements. Finally in 1879, Noyes advised group members to abandon the system he had founded. Those who remained contarcyed individual marriages. As the members began to reorganize, the entire Socialist organization of property was questioned. Noyes and a few of his most ardent disciples adherents movedf to Canada. He died a few years larer in 1886. The members who remained establaished a joint stock company which became known as the Oneida Community, Ltd.

The Oneida Corporation

The new Oneida Limited Corporation continued the the various industries that had been established. The most important became the manufacture of silver plate. The innovative origins of the Community was reflected in a rather progressive approach embraced by the corporation. Women played a much more prominent role in the Corporation than was common in America at the time. Harriet Joslyn, for example, was superintendent of the silk mill and a member of the board of directors. The new company struggled at first, but managed to survive. By the turn of the 20th century, the company was showing a profit.

Noyes' son had taken over leadership of the company. He introduced modern business concepts. Oneida gradually discontinued the silk, trap, and canning operations and focus on the production of silver plate. Oneida began advertising. It adopted innovative marketing techniques such as celebrity endorsements before other advertisers had adopted this now common prtactice. The company also won military contracts for a variety of metal products, producing ammunition clips, army knives and surgical instruments for the military during World War I. The company even managed to show a profit even during the Great Depression, although many economy measures were needed.

The Oneida Corporation by the end of World War I, Oneida Ltd. had changed. The comapny had gradually shifted away from a strong community-oriented business. Generations of Oneidans had continued to work like a large family, but slowly a more mainstream corporate structure developed. New products were added, mostly assocated, like silverwear, with the dinner tavle. Subsidiaries and international sales grew in commercial china, glassware, and holloware. The most imporyant change in the Oneida product line was the introduction of stainless steel flatware, of course much mpre practical than silverwear which required polishing. Not surprisingly, it soon outsold silver plate and became Oneida's most popular product. The new stainless steel flatware could be designed in the same fashionable styles as silverwear. It was both easy to care for and inexpensive. Yje quality of the product made Oneida the most recognized name in tableflatware. The company in 1983 sold over half of the flatware sold in the United States.

The modern Oneida corporation is a far cry from the original Oneida Community. Rgwere have been hugh changes in tastes, economics, and corporate management styles in America since the 1840s. Oneida's work force while now managed like any corporate work force has managed to maintained a sense of community. Noyes' dream of a "perfect" society has long been discarded, but the Oneida Community continues to embrace some of the original ideals. The dignity of work continues to be a constant theme at Oneida. Every job at Oneida is recognized as importants.


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Created: February 24, 2003
Last updated: February 24, 2003