Edward Filene and the Credit Union Act of 1934

September 3, 1860: Birthdate of Edward Albert Filene, Boston merchant.  Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Filene was one of long list of American Jews who gained wealth and power as “merchant princes.”  As president of the Boston firm of William Filene’s Sons he pioneered in scientific and ingenious methods of retail distribution: the “bargain basement” was one of his innovations. He planned and helped organize the Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States and served in World War I as chairman of the War Shipping Committee. He was active in civic reform movements and was the founder (1919) of the Cooperative League, which became the Twentieth Century Fund. He wrote several books on business methods and on economics. His liberal economic and political views made him a controversial figure.

For example:  in 1907 Filene traveled around the world, and by February reached Calcutta, India. There, he visited some rural cooperative banks that had been promoted and funded by the British colonial government. On his return, he contacted his associate Franklin D. Roosevelt and suggested that a similar type of organization be promoted by the US government in the Philippines.

He realized that credit unions could help ordinary American workers to access loans at reasonable rates. Equally important, workers could save their money so that when hard times hit, they were prepared.

Subsequent to this trip the philanthropy he practiced, combined with the steady implementation efforts of his associate Roy Bergengren were critical to the emergence of credit unions in the United States. He also donated $1 million to the Consumers Distribution Corporation to help them organize a national network of cooperative retail stores.

In 1908, Filene and Massachusetts banking commissioner Pierre Jay, helped organize public hearings on creating credit union legislation in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Credit Union Act of 1909was the first comprehensive credit union law in the United States, and would serve as a model for the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934.

The stamp shown here, Scott Catalog No. 2075, was issued by the U.S. Postal Service on February 10, 1984.

credit union act of 1934

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