First commercial cooperatives
The first cooperatives were set up in Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century. The cooperative system’s pioneers include Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, who set up cooperatives for craftsmen and farmers. Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch, who strictly rejected state support, saw his initiative as a self-help scheme for the relevant population groups. In 1849 he founded “raw materials associations” for carpenters and shoemakers. These first commercial cooperatives brought their members significant price advantages with respect to the purchase of raw materials. In the following year together with other citizens from his home town Schulze-Delitzsch set up a Vorschussverein (“disbursement society”), the precursor of the commercial credit cooperatives – later to be called Volksbanken (credit unions). Finally, in 1861 it was decided to establish a central correspondence office, which was managed by Schulze-Delitzsch. Three years later this office gave birth to the General Association of German purchasing and commercial cooperatives based on the self-help principle.
Further information on the founding father of the credit unions (the Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken) can be found on the site of GIZ (Genossenschaftshistorisches Informationszentrum (Information Centre for the History of the Cooperatives)).
The rural cooperatives
In 1864 Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen set up the first rural cooperative bank with the Heddesdorfer Darlehnskassen-Verein. A resolution to join the General Association was never implemented, Indeed it was even reversed at a later point in time. Instead, Schulze-Delitzsch’s organisation, which was to be found more in the towns and among craftsmen, was joined by a second cooperative movement on which Raiffeisen left his mark and which was focused on rural areas. With the establishment of the “Anwaltschaftsverband ländlicher Genossenschaften, Neuwied” in June 1877, Raiffeisen created his organisation’s first national association. In 1910 the association moved to Berlin and seven years later was renamed “Generalverband der deutschen Raiffeisengenossenschaften.”