History of Cooperatives

Humans have always found ways to work together to improve their lives. Cooperating to hunt for food, build shelter, and provide protection allowed early civilizations to thrive.

The first cooperatives as we know them today were formed during the Industrial Revolution in England during the late 18th and 19th centuries by factory workers who needed reasonably priced food and housing.

In 1843, a group of weavers in Rochdale, England, formed what is considered the first successful modern cooperative, selling dry goods from a shop on Toad Lane. The Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society created a list of operating guidelines which were the basis for the cooperative principles still in use today.

Cooperatives also developed in colonial America. Benjamin Franklin founded the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Homes from Loss by Fire in 1752, which is still in operation today. Many American cooperatives were developed by farmers to purchase supplies, assist in marketing grain and livestock, or provide storage or processing services, and farmer cooperatives continue to be a large portion of the cooperative businesses in the United States.

The Great Depression of the 1930s saw many consumer cooperatives begin. These cooperatives were essentially buying groups, organized to help people, especially in urban areas, gain access to affordable food and goods. Although bolstered by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, many of these cooperatives are no longer in business.

Today, cooperatives exist in every sector of the economy, from grocery stores to credit unions, housing complexes to farm supplies. While each cooperative serves its membership in a specific way, all cooperatives share the same core values and principles passed down for centuries.