Consumer Co-operation, Started in England, Rapidly Growing in U.S.

The Washington Post, May 23, 1937

Updated: May 15, 2013

The 1930s witnessed the growth of consumer movements and the “consumer” as a political figure in the United States, while at the same time, Americans looked to European models of consumer organization. In this extensive 1937 Washington Post article, Sylvia Weinberg gives an overview of the global history, development, and dimension of consumer co-operatives, i.e. enterprises run by consumers that are not necessarily profit-oriented but aim mainly to cooperatively fulfilling the consumers’ needs and aspirations. Weinberg describes the “discovery of the user, or consumer” and the fact that even producers function primarily as consumers in the markets. European consumers were aware of their role before their American counterparts, the author says, emphasizing the importance of European (and especially Scandinavian) emigrants for bringing this “economic philosophy” to the United States—a perspectival shift in the “Americanization” narrative that can also be observed in current scientific debates about consumer movements, consumer protection, and the general history of consumption. The article not only offers insight into this development, it also provides particular examples of enterprises and unions from the District of Columbia that typify the trend.

“The movement has been termed ‘revolt of the consumer’ and ‘discovery of the consumer’. If the former, it is revolt without revolution; if the latter, it is discovery by the discovered. […] The first consumers’ co-operative, the Equitable Pioneers’ Society, was formed in Rochdale, England. […] Today, claim British co-operators, consumers’ co-operatives serve about one half the population, accounting for approximately 12 per cent of the national retain trade in their 2,000 societies. […] The United States is particularly indebted to the Scandinavian emigrants settling here in the closing years of the nineteenth century, for consumer co-operation within its boundaries.”

Article available through ProQuest (subscription required)

Weinberg, Sylvia. “Consumer Co-operation, Started in England, Rapidly Growing in U.S.” The Washington Post, May 23, 1937, p. B6.

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