Co-operation, in the sense of people helping each other, has a long tradition in Norway. The informal, common action for solving an upcoming challenge, the "dugnad", is still a well known event to most Norwegians. No wonder then that formal co-operatives, in accordance with the Rochdale principles, were set up already in the 1850s. The co-operative dairy in Rausjødalen, near the little town Røros, established in 1856, is considered to be the first "real" co-operative in Norway, and the first dairy co-operative in northern Europe.

Co-operatives in the main sectors that we know today have developed by leaps and bounds, much related to the economic and social conditions and development. By 1906 there were several consumer co-operative societies, calling for a central organization, today the Coop NKL BA. The big co-operatives in agriculture and fisheries, for example, grew rapidly in importance in the 1920s and ‘30s, a period with difficult market conditions, that is huge overproduction and falling prices. Co-operative housing developed rapidly after World War II, due to need for reconstruction and building of dwellings for people moving into the cities.