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The Amish are a denomination of Anabaptists related to the Mennonites, many of whom are noted for their avoidance of modern devices such as automobiles and electricity.


As Mennonites, the Amish are descendants of the Anabaptist followers of Menno Simons (ca. 1496 - 1561). Simons was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest, who was converted in 1536 and baptized by Obbe Philips. The Amish movement takes it name from Jacob Amman (ca. 1656 - ca. 1730), a Swiss Mennonite. Amman felt that the Mennonites were drifting from close adherence to the teachings of Simons and the 1632 Mennonite Dordrecht Confession of Faith. Much of the laxity was in the area of shunning excluded members, also called the ban. The ban meant believers would terminate contact with a non-conforming member of the Mennonite society. Amman insisted upon this practice, even to the point of a spouse refusing to sleep or eat with the banned member until he/she repented of his/her behavior. This strict literalism brought about a division of the Mennonites in Switzerland in 1693, and led to the establishment of the Amish branch of Mennonites. Some Amish began to migrate to the United States in the 18th century and many settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Other groups settled in or spread to Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and even into Canada. During the 1860s, conferences were held in Wayne County, Ohio concerning how the Amish should deal with the pressures of modern society. The Amish eventually split into several divisions, partly a result of the decisions of these conferences.


The avoidance of items such as automobiles and electricity is largely misunderstood. The Amish do not view technology as evil. Technologies can be petitioned for acceptance into the Amish lifestyle. Twice a year the church leaders meet to review items for admittance.

Electricity, for instance, is viewed as a connection to the "English" or the outside world. The use of electricity also could lead to the use of household appliances that would complicate the Amish tradition of a simple life. However, in certain Amish groups electricity can be used in very specific situations. In some groups for example it has to be produced without access to outside power lines. Twelve-volt batteries are acceptable. Electric generators can only be used for welding, recharging batteries, and powering milk stirs. The reasoning behind the twelve volt system is that it limits what an individual can do with the electricity and acts as a preventive measure against potential abuses. Worldly modern appliances such as televisions, light bulbs, and hair dryers often use 110 or 240 volt electricity, and will not operate under twelve volt current.

Dress code for some groups includes that buttons are not allowed, and only pins are used to keep clothing closed. The Amish are noted for the quality of their quilts and for their farming efficiency.

The Amish do not believe that a child can be meaningfully baptized. Amish children are expected to follow the will of their parents in all issues, but at the age of sixteen they come of age and may lead a lifestyle of their own choice. In fact, in some communities they are permitted to try out the "English" lifestyle of the outside world for a few years, so that they can make an informed choice to be baptized and join the church for life. Some 10% choose not to join the church but live the rest of their lives in the society at large.


The Amish reside in close-knit communities in 22 states of the United States as well as Ontario, Canada. The largest concentrations of Amish in the United States are in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and Holmes County, Ohio. There are an estimated 100,000 Amish in the United States in all groups, and another 1500 in Ontario, Canada.

The strictest Amish groups are the Nebraska Amish and the Swartzendruber Amish. The language used in all Old Order Amish homes and in many Beachy Amish homes is Pennsylvania German, also called Pennsylvania Dutch. The word "Dutch" is derived from Deutsch, meaning German. English is used with the outside world.


The film Witness is centered on an Amish community, as is the 2002 documentary The Devil's Playground.

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