A Brief Quaker Business History

Historically Quakers activities have had an instrumental role in society during periods of upheaval.  We think that Quaker influenced businesses can once again sow seeds that change the world.   

Quakerism began in the late 1600s during a period of great political and social upheaval in England.  Ostracized by the “establishment” and barred from university education and employment in many professions – early Quakers necessarily turned to trade and business endeavors and created close-knit support structures to offer advice and resources.   

In the late 1700s – during the period now know as the First Industrial Revolution – there was economic and social upheaval as the European world began to transition from hand production to  machine production and the beginnings of the factory system. Creative and well organized, and known for their standards of truth and honesty, Quakers were uniquely positioned to take part in these new manufacturing enterprises and banking.

By the 1800s, some Quaker business owners resisted community oversight and left, while other businesses became multinational concerns.  Clark’s Shoes, Western Union, Barclays Bank, Lloyd’s of London and Cadbury Chocolate all have Quaker roots. Some Quaker employers became active in social justice (anti-slavery) and improving the working and living conditions of their employees. 

In the 20th century, positions in politics and academia had opened up to Quakers.  Family-owned businesses became public companies and far fewer Quakers were involved.  Some family wealth was channeled into philanthropy and charitable trusts.

Today, many Quaker enterprises are small-scale operations.  In Africa and elsewhere there are micro-credit programs and community projects.  There is a focus on promoting ethical investments and corporate governance.