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The surprising and storied history of crowdfunding

by | Aug 31, 2016 | Funeral Payment Options

A woman paying online by credit card

Crowdfunding isn’t a new trend.

While crowdfunding platforms (such as Tribute Pay’s crowdfunding feature) are relatively new, the concept of crowdfunding is — surprisingly — not.

Crowdfunding simply means financing a project or event from a group of people, and it’s been around for hundreds of years. As long as humans have lived together in organized societies — from nations to villages — they’ve pooled resources to finance projects.

Funding a Book

One of the best-recorded examples of crowdfunding can be traced back to Alexander Pope in 1713. Pope was an English poet who set out to translate the ancient works of the Greek poet Homer. It was a monumental task that took more than five years.

How did he go about it? He secured contributions from backers — about 750 people donated to fund­ his effort. Pope rewarded those who contributed by listing their names in the first translation of the Iliad.

Crowdfunding a Concert

Pope wasn’t the only one to try a crowdfunding campaign — Mozart also tried his luck with it. In 1783, Mozart turned to crowdfunding piano concertos. His first attempt at crowdfunding didn’t reach its goal, but he tried again. The second time was a success.

In tribute of his backers, Mozart listed them on the manuscripts of his compositions. His official pitch to potential backers read, “These three concertos, which can be performed with full orchestra including wind instruments, or only a quattro, that is with 2 violins, 1 viola and violoncello, will be available at the beginning of April to those who have subscribed for them (beautifully copied, and supervised by the composer himself).”

Crowdfunding in America

Probably one of the most famous crowdfunding campaigns took place in America in 1885. The project? The Statue of Liberty. While the statue was donated by France, the granite pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands still needed to be paid for.

Could you imagine the statue of liberty in Boston, Philadelphia, or even San Francisco? That almost happened — they all offered to pay for the pedestal if the statue was relocated to their respective cities.

According to the BBC, New York needed to raise around $250,000 — which is about $6.3 million dollars today. A committee tasked with funding the project fell short by about $100,000.

Luckily, Joseph Pulitzer launched a crowdfunding campaign through an article in his newspaper the New York World. The campaign was a huge success. It collected more than $100,000 in donations from an estimated 150,000 people. Many donated just $1 or less. Backers were rewarded with small replicas of the statue of liberty, gold coins, and even had their letters and names published in the New York World. You can read Pulitzer’s original call-to-action here.

A Crowdfunded Memorial

It might be the first known crowdfunded memorial in history.

President Ulysses Grant died in 1885. By 1887, more than 90,000 people around the world raised about $600,000 to build the memorial tomb.

Donations came in big and small increments. According to the General Grant National Memorial Historical Resource Study, the very first donation was $5 from an Irish immigrant just an hour after Grant’s death.

Many of the smaller donations were sent by way of newspaper along with published messages. Here are just a few:

  • “A Soldier’s orphan” 5 cents
  • “A German who gives up his beer” 15 cents
  • “The General was a kind friend to me on the field” $1

Source: General Grant National Memorial Historical Resource Study pg. 30.

Large companies also donated. Western Union reportedly gave $5,000. The Consumers Coal Company gave around 37 cents for every ton of coal they sold. The funding for the tomb was the largest public fundraising effort at the time.

Crowdfunding Today

Today, crowdfunding is a $3.4 billion industry, with one in five Americans giving to a crowdfunding campaign. It’s no longer sending money through mail or to newspapers either — crowdfunding can be done with a simple click of a button, making it easier and faster than ever.

The term “crowdfunding” might be new, and the methods of donating are, too. But the idea isn’t — it’s about a community coming together to support each other.


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