A New, Straight, Easy and Short Road to the Summit of Your Wishes

Look here, ye philosophers, ye speculators, ye epicureans, ye philanthropists, ye, who seek the philosophers’ stone, ye, who undergo all hardships and dangers, and traverse the ocean from one extreme to the other in search of money—a new, easy straight and short road to the summit of your wishes is shown.

—John Adolphus Etzler, Paradise within Reach of All Men, without Labour, by Powers of Nature and Machinery; an Address to All Intelligent Men. Pittsburgh: Etzler and Reinhold, 1833: preface.

In 1838, a Benedictine monk and Biblical scholar named Andreas Smolnikar “discovered” through his studies of the Book of Revelation, through signs and omens, and through holy “spirits” speaking to him, that the European monarchy and the Pope constituted the Anti-Christ and a “Babylon, confusion and delusion.”  He also discovered that the spirits were giving him the plans for the “introduction of the Universal Republic, commonly although improperly called the Millennium.”

He emigrated from Europe to America, and was first employed briefly as the pastor of the fledgling congregation of German Catholics in Boston, until his bishop discovered “unmistakable signs of insanity.”  He dropped out of the Catholic Church, and began lecturing—or ranting, some accounts said—to Protestant congregations on the East Coast, about the evils of Monarchism and the “promised New Era of harmony, truth and righteousness on the whole globe.”  He gathered a few followers.

Others, including prophets whom he could not convince of the truth of his ideas—such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, whom he visited in Nauvoo, but could not convince because Mormons “were not yet mature to be converted”—he grouped with the Jesuits and other of his “enemies.”  Some of them, he believed, were “secret enemies,” because they worked against “God’s” plan through occult means, frustrating his “New Era.”

Smolnikar looked for a sign that would show the world and its “materialists” and “sectarians” (that is, those not in his sect) the reality of spirit intervention and the dawning of the “Universal Republic.”  He thought he found it when he heard about John Etzler’s plans for a machine (published with illustration in his 1853 book, The New World; or Mechanical System to Perform Labour of Man and Beast by Inanimate Powers).  Etzler was looking for potential financial backers to build a universal, all-purpose machine, which he called “the Satellite.”  It would take the mechanical power from a water wheel and distribute it, through long belts and complicated gears and levers, to other machines connected to it, radiated out from the power source like the arms of a giant octopus—or, certainly in Etzler’s imagination, like the planets revolving about a central sun, and, as an unsympathetic critic might say, composing a sort of magical orrery, a microcosm that was meant to draw down the working of the solar system.

With its various extensions, the “Satellite” would supposedly perform all the work on a farm—clearing and leveling the land, plowing, planting, and harvesting, sawing lumber, and on and on.  The form of the vast imagined contraption would necessarily define the form of the farm organized around it.  Giant iron earthmovers attached to it would cut and flatten the ground into grand circles of social organization, all centralized and mechanized.  Etzler was optimistic, to say the least:

It is proved here from experience—How to cultivate 20,000 acres by one machine and three or four men, with a capital of less than one dollar per acres, in the most superior mode—how to clear land from trees, stumps, roots and stones, fill and drain swamps, make dams, canals, ditches, roads, and perform any kind of work in the ground, build houses, and furnish as much inanimate power as desired, for ever, for any place and any stationary machine—all by the same system.
The idea of a Universal Machine for a Universal Republic, envisioned in cosmic terms, must have appealed to Smolnikar.  Etzler had pulled out all the stops:
The discovery of the mathematical law of the lever made the discoverer exclaim: “Give me but a point of support, and I can unhinge the world.”  And I say with no less exultation, and I wish, I could speak with a voice of thunder and electrifying the dull to sensibility at the greatest and most joyful news that ever could sound into the human ear: Let me but find a union of a few intelligent men who do not judge before they examine, and grant me their attention; and I can change the world into a most delightful paradise!
In 1844, Smolnikar invited Etzler to construct his machine, with the help of Smolnikar’s followers, on land next to the Allegheny River in Warren County, Pennsylvania.  Etzler agreed.  He joined Smolnikar and his followers as they went to work constructing the machine.  Etzler thought of himself as a thoroughgoing materialist, according to Smolnikar, but the ex-Benedictine (as he explained in his account a decade and a half later, and using the terms that came into being with spiritualism), believed that Etzler was actually an unknowing “strong medium of spirits of a similar character as spirits of Napoleon I were, [engaged in a plan] to subdue the world by physical means.”  Smolnikar was interested in the machine, however, because the wonder that it would present to the World would demonstrate the existence of spirits intervening in history to bring about his New Era: “I considered that machine as the means of peculiar spirit manifestations to awaken nations from their materialism to our message of peace containing the true spiritualism.”

One of Smolnikar’s followers was a mechanic, and assured his leader that Etzler’s machine would work.  But an omen of failure appeared, as Smolnikar later wrote:

But a seeress who belonged to our association and gave amongst all women the strongest testimony to our mission, although she did not see the pattern of the machine, received in a vision its whole structure and described exactly the portions which she saw in the vision, that they broke [. . .] I was certain that the prophetical vision would be fulfilled, but I expected that afterwards would be shown how Etzler’s mistakes should be repaired, and that great lessons would be given to nations by the trial of that machine.
The machine was constructed under Etzler’s direction, and was finally set in motion, “and the pieces broke,” Smolnikar wrote, “which have been foreseen and foretold as breaking.”  Some of Smolnikar’s opponents, he wrote, were happy about his misfortune—“There was a great jubilee of those who have been deluded by priestcraft, that they thought when Christ was killed, that he would arise no more.”

Etzler and Smolnikar’s chief mechanic—and others—left, but Smolnikar spoke to the followers that remained and told them that the following night one of them would receive a revelation about what went wrong with the machine and how to fix it.  And, “a young lame shoemaker, a sincere seeker after truth and firm believer in our mission,” named George Karle, did have a vision in which it was revealed to him—and to everyone else, upon explanation—just what had to be done to get the machine running again, probably consisting in adjustments, reinforcements, or extensions to the water wheel in the river.  But one of Smolnikar’s “secret enemies”—this one in spirit form—quickly acted by occult means to prevent his success:

But before this [fixing the machine] has been done, [Karle] was brought into the Allegheny River and drowned by the instrumentality of the departed Mormon Prophet Joe Smith, not directly but indirectly by the instrumentality of a cow.  But a week after that, on the 30th of July, 1844, the same destroying spirit Joe Smith was allowed to attack me directly, to show how he would be able to kill a man in a minute, if he would be permitted.  But he was seized by my [spirit] guardian and cast into a combustible matter which was by his infernal electricity instantly kindled.  George Karle was permitted to be drowned, because the time for establishing our center had not yet arrived, and Karle had an important mission in the spirit world, and in that great mission he continues to be engaged.
Etzler went to England and tried to organize and finance a colony of settlers who would set up a tropical utopian agricultural community in Venezuela.  He explained the failure of the Satellite in America to an oversight of having allowed some pieces of the machine to be constructed of wood instead of iron.  These were small mechanical problems, he and his own followers believed.  Etzler provided testimony, in a pamphlet-prospectus for the Venezuelan colony, from enthusiasts who explained why their little band of settlers would create a true paradise.  They contrasted themselves to those who passed their time “in dreams of fancy, empty of realities”:
We have [. . .] the new invention of Mr. J. A. Etzler, to furnish and supply perpetual powers to any amount desirable to drive all possible machines, powers which cost nothing, being a combination of wind and water power, and machines to eradicate trees, remove rocks, saw the trees into pieces on the spot where they grew, till the land in the most superior manner as a garden, unequalled by any agricultural system in the world, with irrigation or draining of the soil wherever it may be desirable; make roads and canals, and transport men and things with any speed which may be thought necessary, on roads that require no expenses or labour, and never need any repairs.  This mechanical system is simple in its operations, and requires but one or two men at a time for each machine, merely to direct it, and do the work of hundreds if not thousands of labourers.

— John A. Etzler, Emigration to the Tropical World, for the Melioration of All Classes of People of All Nations. London: Concordium, 1844: 23.

Etzler went to Venezuela to acquire land, but was never successful, and his prospective colonists dwindled away after learning of his real estate failure and after witnessing another trial of a Satellite that failed to accomplish more than chew up a few yards of dirt.

Smolnikar’s misadventure with the Satellite dampened his hopes that the location in Warren County would turn out to be where he should settle with his followers.  He spent the next few years elsewhere, mostly in Illinois and Indiana, looking for financial backers to buy property for him.  But the fiasco with the machine did not improve his ability to recruit people to join in a cooperative association, as he wrote respectively in 1859:

People were deluded by the blind leaders of the blind and would not hear us, when we invited them after the trial [of Etzler’s machine] for co-operation to establish a center without trying any [new] machine, but only using machines which have been tried by others and found to be useful.  But when we will be in all directions secured with abundant means, we will support inventions for the common welfare.

—Andreas Bernardus Smolnikar, anglicized when he came to America to Andrew Bernard Smolnikar, Secret Enemies of True Republicanism, most important developments regarding the inner life of man and the spirit world, in order to abolish revolutions and wars and to establish permanent peace on Earth; also, the plan for redemption of nations from monarchical and other oppressive speculations and for the introduction of the promised new era of harmony, truth and righteousness on the whole globe. Springhill, Peace Union Centre, PA: Robert D. Eldridge, 1859:171-177.

In the late 1850s, Smolnikar and his followers returned to Pennsylvania and settled into a community on a piece of land on the other side of the State, in Perry County, near Harrisburg, on the Susquehanna River, at Springhill, in a cooperative community they called the Peace Union Center, after their previous settlement in Warren County.

For More on Smolnikar:

Jon Alexander, O.P. and David Williams, “Andreas Bernardus Smolnikar: American Catholic Apostate and Millennial Prophet,” American Benedictine Review, 35:1 (1984) 50-63.

And on Etzler:

John Adolphus Etzler, by Joel Nydahl


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