Even though it was only silverplate rather than sterling, your family probably stored it in a velvet-lined wooden case.Or maybe you saw an ad depicting an elegant table set with Oneida flatware while flipping through the pages of “Good Housekeeping” or “Better Homes and Gardens.” You might also have encountered Oneida while watching “The Price Is Right,” enthralled by the model wowing a studio audience when she opened a chest of gleaming Oneida cutlery for the contestants to bid on.At the time, they had people knocking at their doors, trying to get access to these papers, and they thought, ‘You know what, we’re going to put an end to this for good.’ In some ways, they were intensely private people.” Fortunately for Wayland-Smith, previous Oneida chronicler Spencer Klaw, and anyone else who wants to dig into the community’s history, it wasn’t all lost.
Top: To counter criticism, the Oneida Community put out this photograph, circa 1870, of men and women in the Mansion House public square or “quadrangle.” The women, though still in pants, avert their gazes, and the men have removed their hats according to Victorian bourgeois custom.
(Courtesy of Picador) Above: A 55-piece set of Oneida silverplate in the “Plantation” pattern from 1948..
While the South had its large slave plantations, New Englanders, at least, thought freedom meant living in small villages where artisans and farmers owned their own land and thrived on subsistence agriculture.
Of course, white men were the only Americans who had full legal rights in the early 19th century, which included the rights to own land and slaves, and these men essentially owned their wives and children as well.
Given those deep roots, along with its later symbolism as the brand of flatware most associated with American middle-class aspirationalism and traditional gender roles, it’s doubly ironic that Oneida Limited actually emerged from a 19th-century polyamorous communist Christian utopia known as the Oneida Community.
Founded in 1848, and in operation for just over three decades, the Oneida Community was profoundly revolutionary for its time, paving the way for advances in women’s and workers’ rights.John Humphrey Noyes talks about Jesus being a battery who will charge you with electric life.He believed some ways of communicating this magnetic fluid were more effective, like having sexual intercourse.” In fact, Oneida is the name of a First Nations tribe that occupied much of upstate New York long before it was called upstate New York.“All of these sensitive materials were in that collection.The Oneida descendants knew about the burning, obviously.Wayland-Smith’s book begins in July 1948, when Oneida Limited flatware manufacturer celebrated the Community’s 100th birthday and the company’s reputation as—forgive the pun—a “sterling” example of American industry.On a grandstand outside the original community’s 93,000-square foot Victorian brick home called the Mansion House in Oneida, New York, the crowd enjoyed a soprano and organist performing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the crowning of a “Silver Queen,” and a string of circus and daredevil acts.Born to a well-off family in Putney, Vermont, in 1811, Noyes, an awkward and introverted redhead, grew up lamenting his feelings of sexual frustration.When his religiously devout mother sent him to a tent revival in fall of 1831, the 20-year-old virgin discovered he could channel all his erotic energy into Christianity.The original polyamorous religious commune broke up in 1880 and reorganized its assets into a corporation.In the 1890s, Oneida Community, Limited, started to drop its other products to focus on the cutlery market.