The Early History of Cooperatives

The modern history of cooperatives started with the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in 1844. This was an early consumer co-operative, and one of the first to pay a patronage dividend, forming the basis for the modern co- operative movement. Although other co-operatives preceded them, the Rochdale Pioneers’ co-operative became the prototype for societies in Great Britain. The Rochdale Pioneers are most famous for designing the Rochdale Principles, a set of principles of co-operation that provide the foundation for the principles on which co-ops around the world operate to this day.
The model the Rochdale Pioneers used is a focus of study within co-operative economics. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was a group of 28; around half were weavers in Rochdale, Lancashire, England, that was formed in 1844. As the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution was forcing more and more skilled workers into poverty, these tradesmen decided to band together to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. With 2 lessons from prior failed attempts at co-operation in mind, they designed the now famous Rochdale Principles, and over a period of four months they struggled to pool one £1 per person for a total of 28 pounds of capital. On 21 December 1844, they opened their store with a very meager selection of butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles. Within three months, they expanded their selection to include tea and tobacco, and they were soon
known for providing high quality, unadulterated goods. Ten years later, the British co-operative movement had grown to nearly 1,000 co-operatives.
The Cooperative Group is one of the largest supermarket chains in the United Kingdom.

Compiled By:

Emily M. Gatuguta, OGW
Peter Kimotho
Samwel Kiptoo
Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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