Have you ever wondered about the origins of today’s credit unions? This post won’t touch on these venerable financial institutions specifically, though they take inspiration from the Rochdale Pioneers, who founded the first modern retail cooperative store in England on this day in 1844.

At that time, the mechanization of skilled jobs during the Industrial Revolution drove many workers into poverty, and the bare necessities of food, drink and candles soon grew out of reach for these workers. The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, which consisted of 10 weavers and 18 other people, realized the need to assist their fellow men and open a store dedicated to providing food that they could not otherwise afford.

After endeavoring to pool 1 pound sterling per person for four months, the Pioneers began with 28 pounds of capital and opened their first cooperative store. Their first offerings amounted to nothing more than butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and a few candles, but within the span of three months the store grew to stock tea and tobacco, and became known for providing authentic, high-quality goods.

So what does this particular piece of retail history have to do with modern retail business, you ask? In the United Kingdom, the cooperative movement exploded in popularity, with nearly 1,000 cooperative stores springing up in the ten years since the Rochdale Pioneers’ 1844 opening.

This explosion wasn’t just a mere fluke, either — in myriad locales, they all shared the same common bedrock the Pioneers instituted for their 31 Toad Lane store in Rochdale, Lancashire, England: the Rochdale Principles. These principles, which emphasize open and voluntary member- ship, and an earnest concern for the community, among others, are listed under Article 6 of the ICA Statutes. In a time when it was of paramount importance to stretch one’s pounds, the principles were a driving force for the promotion of the common good, helping cooperatives help their neighbors and giving their neighbors good reasons to support them in turn. The International Co-operative Alliance officially adopted these principles in 1937 as the Rochdale Principles of Co-operation as the model for all present and future cooperatives to follow, and the rest, as has oft been said, is history.




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