The origin of cooperative philosophy is found in the writings and activities of Robert Owen, Louis Blanc, Charles Fourier, and others. Its early character was revolutionary, but under the impact of such movements as Christian Socialism this aspect diminished. After some early 19th-century experiments, consumers' cooperation took permanent form with the establishment (1844) of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in England.
The cooperative movement has since had considerable growth throughout Great Britain and the Commonwealth, where local cooperatives have been federated into national wholesale and retail distributive enterprises and where a large proportion of the population has membership. Various examples of cooperative organization are also found in the Scandinavian countries, Israel, the People's Republic of China, Russia, and France. In the United States the cooperative movement began in the 19th cent., first among workers and then among farmers. The National Grange, a farmers' cooperative, was founded in 1867 and later exercised considerable political influence (see Granger movement). An international alliance for the dissemination of cooperative information was founded in 1895. Today the major types of cooperatives include those of farmers, wholesalers, and consumers, as well as insurance, banking and credit, and rural electrification cooperatives (the growth of the latter two facilitated by loans from the federal government). There has been increasing international collaboration among the various kinds of cooperatives and a growing trend toward the establishment of international cooperative distribution.