If you've ever traveled the back roads of the Midwestern United States, you might already know that traffic jams in the country can look quite different than they do in the city. Instead of miles and miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic, you might find yourself slowed to a crawl behind a tractor or combine.
In certain areas, you might also find yourself behind another unique slow-moving vehicle: a buggy pulled by a horse. Who are these people who choose to travel by horse and buggy rather than the convenience of a modern automobile? The Amish, of course!
Amish roots go back to the 16th century Anabaptist movement around the time of the Protestant Reformation. In 1693, a Swiss minister named Jakob Ammann formed his own branch of Anabaptism in Switzerland and eastern France. All modern Amish communities can be traced back to this group. The first Amish people came to North America in the early 1700s, seeking to escape religious persecution and find land to farm.
The Amish follow the basic tenets of the Christian faith. However, they do have particular views about adult baptism, simplicity, community, technology, separation from modern culture, and pacifism that set them apart in a unique way in today's society.
Today, there are over 40 different subgroups of Amish around North America. Each Amish community makes up its own unwritten set of rules, which they call Ordnung (the German word for "order"). Strictness of rules can vary from one community to another. However, there are certain rules that apply to most, if not all, Amish communities.
For example, most, if not all, Amish groups forbid ownership of automobiles and instead travel by horse and buggy. They also require members to dress in a simple, plain fashion, and married men must grow beards. The Amish live in rural areas and educate their children through the eighth grade in one-room school houses.
The Amish object to war and will not serve in the military or hold public office. They restrict contact with outsiders and only selectively use modern technologies. While all Amish communities tend to reject televisions and computers, they do allow the use of electricity in the form of batteries and solar power. For the most part, the Amish still avoid tapping into the public grid for electric power.
When it comes to farming, most Amish still use horses to pull field equipment. Some more progressive communities have begun to allow tractors and a select few have even started to allow the use of cell phones.
When making decisions about technology, most Amish communities permit modified versions of technologies that will serve the community without having a negative impact on it. They don't view technology itself as evil, but they seek to avoid technologies that would bring about greater contact with and assimilation into modern society.
While it might seem like the Amish way of life is old-fashioned compared to modern society, the Amish are flourishing. Their population has doubled over the past two decades to a total of over 265,000, about half of which is under the age of 18. Today, there are approximately 450 Amish settlements in 28 states and the Canadian province of Ontario. The largest Amish populations can be found in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana.