Organized by nineteen farmers in May 1877, the Goodlettsville Lamb and Wool Club has the distinction of being the oldest cooperative livestock organization in the United States. This farmer-owned association was the progenitor of future cooperative marketing organizations that, by 1950, encompassed nearly one million members in similar clubs across the United States.
At the close of the Civil War, Tennessee farmers struggled to recover their once prosperous lands from the war's devastation. The Granger Movement, which sought to improve farmers' standard of living through cooperative enterprises, met with limited success in the South. Nevertheless, the movement educated farmers about business dealings with manufacturers and middlemen in an increasingly complex agricultural market. The depression created by the Panic of 1873 was especially severe to southern farmers, who sank deeper and deeper into debt. Several crusades, including the Agricultural Wheel of the 1880s and the Farmers' Alliance of the 1880s and 1890s, developed from these conditions.
Sheep farmers in the northern Davidson County town of Goodlettsville had long submitted to the sheep buyer's practice of “guessing” the weight of spring lambs and paying the farmers accordingly. When buyers apparently were systematically underestimating the actual weight of the lambs, nineteen sheep growers headed by William Luton banded together to insist on proper weighing of their livestock. They called themselves the Goodlettsville Lamb Club and the next year changed the name to the Goodlettsville Lamb and Wool Club. In 1920 the name again changed to the Goodlettsville Wool Club.
Club bylaws protected members by keeping sales records of lambs and wool. The association guaranteed buyers that no underweight lambs would be sold and required members to sell lambs and wool only through the club. The club's success meant increased profits for sheep farmers, improvement in their farms, and a better community spirit. The success also inspired the founding of similar organizations, not only in Tennessee, but in other states. The Goodlettsville Lamb and Wool Club showed that cooperation was the best way to combat the pressures from buyers of farm products.
Mason McGrew, “The Story of Goodlettsville Lamb and Wool Club,” reprinted in Makers of Millions (1951)