Who are the Amish?
Many of our customers come into our stores, see modern and transitional designs and ask, “Do the Amish really make this furniture?” The answer is yes—they really do. Oftentimes there is confusion about the Amish lifestyle, religion and furniture-making methods. Today, we will touch a little on each to give you a broader perspective on these people.
The Amish have a total estimated population of around 290,000 with two-thirds of all Amish living in three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana. Their movement began in Switzerland around 1525 during the time of the Protestant Reformation. Their first leader was Jakob Ammann, hence they became known as the Amish.
The Amish believe in adult baptism, pacifism and being free from both state control and government dependence. They accept the basic tenets of Christianity, with special emphasis on living simply, and being part of a community that is separate from the world. However, not all Amish groups are the same. Groups may have different dress styles, carriages, occupations and rules about what type of technology is allowed (more on this later).
A common misconception is that the Amish do not pay taxes, when, in fact, these communities pay all: income, property, sales, estate, and corporate. Many Amish pay school taxes twice, once for public, and again for private Amish schools. In 1965, the U.S. Congress exempted the Amish from Social Security because the Amish viewed it as a form of commercial insurance. They opposed it because they believe that they have an obligation to care for each others’ physical and material needs, and this, they feel, should not be done through the state. They do not depend on “government handouts,” and in fact usually pay for their own medical expenses.
Where Our Furniture is Made
Gish’s Furniture sells products exclusively made by the Amish of Holmes and Wayne Counties, Ohio. The Holmes County Ohio Amish population contains the highest percentage of Amish in any U.S. county, and is actually the largest Amish community in the world with a population of 36,000. It is our belief that the Amish furniture makers in these communities offer the very best furniture quality, with the widest assortment of products available for our customers.
This high density of Amish results in a very strong cluster of Amish furniture makers, enabling a high degree of specialization and enhancing aggregate productivity among the many small manufacturers. With an abundance of highly skilled labor, plentiful raw material with lumber that is locally or regionally harvested, and hundreds of years of woodworking techniques passed down from generation to generation, our Amish craftsman produce the very best solid hardwood furniture available anywhere in North America.
Furniture Making and the Use of Technology
Many of our customers ask what type of technology the Amish are allowed to use when making furniture because they wrongly believe that the Amish reject all modern technology. Within their communities, allowances are often made for woodworking because the fruits of this type of labor can support multiple families.
While most Amish districts do prevent the use of electricity, many Amish woodworking shops use diesel generators that power hydraulic or pneumatic energy systems. These systems then power modern tools like table saws, routers, and pneumatic drills. And although the amount and type of technology used varies from district to district, the end result is the same, furniture that represents the Amish heritage of beauty, simplicity and functionality.
For those of you who would like more detailed information on the background, beliefs, and lifestyle of the Amish, I would recommend the following sources of information.
Donald B. Kraybill is an internationally renowned scholar and author of several books about the Amish. He is a Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. His website can be found here.
PBS also produced an excellent background documentary on the Amish for their American Experience series. You can find additional information located at their site.
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