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Consumer Cooperative Movement on Iron Range

Cindy Kujala, a staff writer for the Community Information Network, writes about the consumer cooperative movement on the Iron Range in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s:

The consumer cooperative movement on the Range was initially developed almost entirely by Finnish immigrant groups and although second and third generation Americans of other ethnic groups eventually contributed to the movement, it has eventually been almost totally dominated by Finnish Americans.
During the period 1890 through the 1950s, the Range was dominated by three economic activities: mining, logging and agriculture. All three activities saw conditions of economic insecurity due to responses of these activities to general economic conditions as well as seasonal fluctuations and exhaustions of iron ore and forest resources. In addition, conflict between workers and large corporations affect entire communities.
As a producer, the immigrant farmer on the Range market farm produced mainly dairy products and wood products. Local lumber companies or jobbers usually contracted for the forest products and extended credit to buy supplies from the company store.
This practice often resulted in the immigrant farmer being exploited twice: once when he had to sell his products at whatever price the company would give him, and then again when he had to buy at the company store at high prices. As a miner or logger, the early immigrant was also usually given credit at the company store. These stores often had monopolies and the immigrant miners, loggers or farmers had to trade there. High prices were the rule.
As a result of their limited incomes and the above consumer conditions, the immigrant became very conscious of consumer purchasing. The high prices charged by local merchants is one of the most frequently repeated reasons given for starting local cooperatives. Continue reading