Cooperation dates back as far as human beings have been organizing for mutual benefit. Tribes were organized as cooperative structures, allocating jobs and resources among each other, only trading with the external communities.Viamala in 1472.
 Pre-industrial Europe is home to the first cooperatives from an industrial context.
In alpine environments, trade could only be maintained in organized cooperatives to achieve a useful condition of artificial roads such as
(1771–1858) was a social reformer and a pioneer of the cooperative movement.
In 1761, the
Fenwick Weavers' Society was formed in
Fenwick, East Ayrshire,
Scotland to sell
oatmeal to local workers.
 Its services expanded to include assistance with savings and loans, emigration and education. In 1810,
Robert Owen, from Newtown in mid-
Wales, and his partners purchased
New Lanark mill from Owen's father-in-law
David Dale and proceeded to introduce better labour standards including discounted retail shops where profits were passed on to his employees. Owen left New Lanark to pursue other forms of cooperative organization and develop coop ideas through writing and lecture. Cooperative communities were set up in
Hampshire, although ultimately unsuccessful. In 1828,
William King set up a newspaper, The Cooperator, to promote Owen's thinking, having already set up a cooperative store in Brighton.
Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, (RCEP) founded in 1844, is usually considered the first successful cooperative enterprise, used as a model for modern coops, following the '
Rochdale Principles'. A group of 28 weavers and other artisans in
Rochdale, England set up the society to open their own store selling food items they could not otherwise afford. Within ten years there were over a thousand cooperative societies in the United Kingdom.
Other events such as the founding of a
friendly society by the
Tolpuddle Martyrs in 1832 were key occasions in the creation of organized labor and consumer movements.