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The credit union idea evolved from the cooperative ac-
tivities of early 19th century Europe. The first of these
co-operatives was an 1844 marketing co-operative or-
ganised by a group of workers in Rochdale, England.
That same year in Germany, Victor Aime Huber began
developing and publicising some of the early European
co-operative theories. The idea of credit societies was a
part of this effort.
Credit Societies: The Birth of Credit Unions
Moved by the crop failure and famine that had devas-
tated Germany in 1846--1847, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch
and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen created the first true
credit unions in the mid-19th century. After organizing a co-
operatively owned mill and bakery, Schulze-Delitzsch
founded the first "people's bank" in 1852 to provide credit
to entrepreneurs in the city. Raiffeisen had established a
credit society in Flammersfeld, Germany in 1849 that de-
pended on the charity of wealthy men for its support. He
remained committed to that concept until 1864, when he
organized a new credit union for farmers along the princi-
ples of cooperative interdependence, a community-first
mentality and a volunteer management structure that are
still fundamental today.
The credit societies in Germany, and similar institutions
founded by Luigi Luzzatti in Italy, were the forerunners of
the large cooperative "banks" which abound in Europe
The Idea Goes West
Over the years, credit unions spread to communities
around the world. In the early 1900s Alphonse and
Dorimene Desjardins started a credit union (caisse popu-
laire) in Lévis, Quebec. Shortly thereafter, Alphonse, along
with Americans Edward A. Filene and Roy F. Bergengren,
helped establish credit unions in the United States.
The First Credit Union Day
As time passed, a desire emerged to establish an annual
occasion to acknowledge both the credit unions' important
role in creating opportunity for their members and commu-
nities and the achievements of pioneers who laid the foun-
dation for ongoing credit union success.
On January 17, 1927, the Credit Union League of Massa-
chusetts celebrated the first official holiday for credit union
members and workers. They selected January 17 because
it was the birthday of America's "Apostle of Thrift," Ben-
jamin Franklin (1706--1790), who early credit union
founders believed symbolised "the life and teaching embod-
ied in the spirit and purpose of credit unions."
Ironically, rapid growth within the North American credit
union movement meant that people were either too busy
to celebrate or too new to the movement to recognise the
significance of the celebration. After a brief trial period,
Credit Union Day quietly disappeared.
A Second Chance
In 1948, the US 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.
Credit unions, state credit union leagues in the United
States and many of the informal credit union chapters in
each state were encouraged to celebrate the new holiday in
some way. It was to be a time for raising funds for move-
ment causes and to pay homage to the men and women
who had dedicated their lives to credit union development.
Sending a Message Around the World
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 for-
mally expanded its mission and launched CUNA International.
By 1971, substantial worldwide credit union progress led
to the creation of World Council of Credit Unions to assist
others in establishing and maintaining viable credit union
movements in countries across the globe. In Canada, Aus-
tralia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, New
Zealand, Great Britain and the South Pacific, national and
regional credit union federations and confederations were
established to support and endorse credit union develop-
ment. World Council created the first International Credit
Union Day materials more than 30 years ago, and they con-
tinue to provide ICU Day resources to credit unions and as-
sociations throughout the world today.
Courtesy the World Council of Credit Unions
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