History of Cooperatives in the United States: An Overview
Cooperative organizations have been organized throughout history to meet many different needs, often in response to economic and social stress. In the United States, cooperative organizations appeared very early, reflecting both the European heritage of early settlers and the basic need for cooperative solutions to rural conditions.
The development of U.S. cooperative organizations are rooted in the upheavals that characterized the Industrial Revolution in England during 1750-1850. During this period many small, home-based enterprises disappeared, forcing workers to move to cities where they faced harsh working conditions and low wages. In rural areas, the enclosure movement and changes in land tenure patterns drove many small farmers off their lands into towns and cities looking for work.
Cooperative development in specific economic sectors sometimes followed divergent paths, influenced by the social and market conditions of a given time and place. Periods of significant cross-pollination between sectors also occurred, especially when broader socio-economic forces were at work. It is in the agricultural sector, however, that cooperatives have had the most significant economic impact in the U.S.