Economics Tour

Focuses on Mass Social Studies frameworks: (General Economics: 14,15,18,19,20)
See also US I Tour for other visiting options.

Vocabulary/concepts to know ahead of time

  • Economies of scale
  • Cost/benefit analysis
  • Opportunity cost
  • Competition
  • Supply/demand
  • Stocks/investment

Overview – Economics of the Shakers

Shakers traded outside the community, buying pottery jugs and other items they did not produce. Office Deacons, or Trustees, handled business with the outside world. Shakers were known for their honesty.

Merchants who bought wholesale quantities of Shaker products in the 1800s traveled to the Trustee’s Office to transact business, and visitors to the Village often stopped at the store to buy a memento of their trip. Shaker Office Sisters sold brooms, baskets, postcards, cloaks and confections like sugared walnuts – simple, well-made items produced by Brothers and Sisters in the communal family. The term “fancy goods” referred to the products’ excellence, not to decorative quality. English Quaker William S. Warder described the wares he saw for sale while visiting in 1818:“They also manufacture nearly all their own clothing, and make many articles for sale: among which are leather, hats, cards, measures, boxes of beautiful workmanship, wire sieves, flax combs, wagons, ploughs, rails, wooden ware, and brooms. They carry to market most kinds of kitchen vegetables: they also raise for sale abundance of garden seeds…As they are a people perhaps above all others to be depended upon for veracity and strict integrity, one may buy without fear of deception, and the articles are always delivered with the greatest punctuality.”

Shaker men traveled as peddlers to sell brooms, vegetable seeds, and other Shaker products.

Shakers at Hancock and other Shaker Villages made and sold woolen cloaks beginning in the 1880s. One of many Shaker businesses managed by women, this enterprise brought in money that helped keep the communities solvent while the number of Brethren dwindled.

The Shakers utilized hired labor as early as 1826 when stone masons were brought in to build the Round Stone Barn. As Shaker membership declined in the second half of the nineteenth century, especially in the Brethren’s order, farm workers were hired to keep lands in production, to cut wood and perform heavy labor. Hired men were lodged in a separate building, convenient to the Trustee’s Office. Originally a seed shop on the north side of Route 20, the current Hired Men’s Shop was moved to its present location in 1905 to replace an earlier building that had burned.

Places to visit on the tour

Laundry/Machine Shop
Things for students to keep in mind in the machine shop:

  • How have the Shakers maximized their opportunity cost by using technology?
  • What types of machines do you see in this building? What do they do?
  • When the Shaker community was making economic decisions, what types of decisions had to go into a cost/benefit analysis when purchasing machines such as this?
  • How does this laundry and machine shop utilize economies of scale and mechanization?

Trustees Office & Store
Things for students to consider:

  • What is a Trustee? Why did they live and work in this place? Why might they be called “trustees?”
  • Trustees were responsible for all business transactions and investments of the village. What are some positives and negatives about having a few people run the economic side of the entire community?
  • Individual Shakers carried no personal money, instead the trustees pooled all of their money to invest for the whole village. How would this impact their cost/benefit analysis?
  • What type of investments do you think the Shakers used?
  • Based on the items in the trustees office and store answer the following questions. What types of things do you think they sold here? Why do you think they sold these things? How was this affected by supply and demand? What market did they have in this place?

Hired Men’s Shop
Things for students to consider:

  • What does it mean about the village if they have a “hired men’s” shop?
  • What does this say about their opportunity costs?
  • What about the cost benefit analysis?
  • What types of work would these men do?