A brief credit union timeline
From the Illinois Credit Union League
While International Credit Union Day has been celebrated for the past 55 years, the beginnings of credit unions evolved in early 19th-century Europe. We pay tribute to these founders and to the many people today who continue the commitment that sustains and builds today’s cooperative financial institutions.
• A group of workers and weavers in Rochdale, England, organized the first financial cooperative in 1844.
• Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, mayor of Flammersfeld, Germany, created the first credit cooperative in Germany. He conceived of the idea for a credit union to help alleviate the distress of farmers suffering from the famine that had struck his district. Although the credit union was not officially formed until Dec. 1, 1849, credit union people have celebrated the year 1848 since the 1940s.
• In 1900, a Canadian named Alphonse Desjardins organized a credit union (caisse populaire) in Levis, Quebec. In 1909, Desjardins also organized the first credit union in the United States in New Hampshire.
• Two Americans were influenced by Desjardins’ efforts — Pierre Jay, the Massachusetts banking commissioner, and Edward A. Filene, a Boston merchant. The two men helped organize public hearings on credit union legislation in Massachusetts, leading to passage of the first state credit union act in 1909.
• In 1921, Filene created the Credit Union National Extension Bureau and hired Massachusetts attorney Roy F. Bergengren to help him. Filene poured more than $1 million of his own money into the project. Bergengren appeared before state legislators, helping pass laws and initiating volunteer organizers into the “movement.”
• Congress passed a Federal Credit Union Act in 1934 to facilitate the organization of federal credit unions across the United States. That same year, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) was formed as a confederation of state associations. By 1935, 39 states had credit union laws, and 3,372 credit unions were serving 641,800 members.
• In 1948, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) decided to initiate a new national Credit Union Day celebration. CUNA and CUNA Mutual Insurance Society set aside the third Thursday of October as the national day of observance. By then, many more of America’s credit union leaders believed there was a need for an occasion that would bring people together to reflect upon credit union history and achievements and to promote the credit union idea across the country.
• During the 1950s, CUNA’s World Extension Department provided technical assistance and philosophical guidance for credit union development worldwide. So many countries had established credit union movements by 1964 that CUNA formally expanded its mission and launched CUNA International. New movements joined the credit union family each year, and an increasing number of people were interested in celebrating their uniqueness and unity with a special holiday that could be enjoyed by everyone-regardless of religion, political beliefs, cultural differences or language. Many credit unions and leagues began to distribute publications, banners, slogans and kits, and Credit Union Day became an international celebration.
• By 1971, substantial worldwide credit union progress led to the creation of World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) to assist others in establishing and maintaining viable credit union movements in countries across the globe.
• In the late 1990s, Congress passed favorable legislation that helped credit unions retain their principles while allowing for future growth. In August 1998, President Clinton signed H.R. 1151, the Credit Union Membership Access Act, into law.
From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue
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