The cooperative movement began in Europe in the 19th century, primarily in Britain and France, although The Shore Porters Society claims to be one of the world's first cooperatives, being established in Aberdeenin 1498 (although it has since demutualized to become a private partnership). The industrial revolution and the increasing mechanism of the economy transformed society and threatened the livelihoods of many workers. The concurrent labour and social movements and the issues they attempted to address describe the climate at the time.
The first documented consumer cooperative was founded in 1769, in a barely furnished cottage in Fenwick, East Ayrshire, when local weavers manhandled a sack of oatmeal into John Walker's whitewashed front room and began selling the contents at a discount, forming the Fenwick Weavers' Society.
In the decades that followed, several cooperatives or cooperative societies formed including Lennoxtown Friendly Victualling Society, founded in 1812.
By 1830, there were several hundred co-operatives. Some were initially successful, but most cooperatives founded in the early 19th century had failed by 1840. However, Lockhurst Lane Industrial Co-operative Society (founded in 1832 and now Heart of England Co-operative Society), and Galashiels and Hawick Co-operative Societies (1839 or earlier, merged with The Co-operative Group) still trade today.
It was not until 1844 when the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers established the "Rochdale Principles" on which they ran their cooperative, that the basis for development and growth of the modern cooperative movement was established.
Financially, credit unions were invented in Germany in the mid-19th century, first by Franz Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch (1852, urban), then by Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen (1864, rural). While Schulze-Delitzsch is chronologically earlier, Raiffeisen has proven more influential over time – see history of credit unions. In Britain, the friendly society, building society, and mutual savings bank were earlier forms of similar institutions.