In 1536, Menno Simons, a Dutch Catholic priest, converted to Anabaptism and eventually became a prolific writer and influential leader. In time, many of his followers became known as Mennonites. A century and a half later, in the 1690s, another Anabaptist convert, Jakob Ammann, led a renewal movement in Switzerland and the Alsatian region of France, which produced the Amish.
Although they share a common Anabaptist heritage, Amish and Mennonites have been separate groups within the Anabaptist family since 1693. Amish and Mennonites migrated separately to North America but often settled in the same areas. Both migrated in several waves, first in the 1700s and 1800s. They established settlements in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, and eventually spread to other states.
In the twenty-first century, there are numerous Mennonite groups in North America. In general, Mennonites are more assimilated into mainstream culture and are more likely to live in urban and suburban settings. Although some Old Order Mennonite groups use horse-and-buggy transportation, many Mennonites drive cars, wear contemporary clothing, support higher education, and use modern technology. Almost all Amish groups reject these practices. The more conservative Mennonite groups dress in plain clothing but drive cars, have telephones in their homes, and use electricity from public power lines. These groups also adhere to more traditional practices in their church life.
As religious cousins who share a common Anabaptist heritage, Amish and Mennonites sometimes cooperate in activities such as historical projects or service activities through Mennonite Central Committee (an international relief and service agency) or Mennonite Disaster Service (an agency that helps outsiders recover from damage produced by hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, etc.). Old Order Mennonites sometimes cooperate with Amish on schools and publications, but Amish and Mennonite groups generally live separately, although sometimes in the same geographical areas.
- Donald B. Kraybill and C. Nelson Hostetter, Anabaptist World USA (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001).
- Donald B. Kraybill and James Hurd, Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites: Hoofbeats of Humility in a Postmodern World (State College, PA: Penn State University Press, 2006).
- The Mennonite Encyclopedia, 5 vols. (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1955-90).