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  • Writer's pictureNoel Williams

History of Timebanking

history of timebanking

If you have read our introduction to Timebanking, you now have an understanding of how timebanking systems function within modern societies. With that said, we haven’t really yet delved into the history of timebanking and how things have evolved to become what they are today. That is exactly what this piece aims to achieve.

Timebanking’s 19th Century Origins

The first reporting of ‘time-based’ currency originates from the 19th century, when Josiah Warren coined his ‘Labor Theory of Value’. In essence, this theory states that the value of a good or service is determined by how much labor is required to produce that good or service. In order to test his theory, Josiah Warren opened the Cincinnati Time Store, which operated from 1827 through 1830.

At this store, customers could purchase goods by way of labor notes, which were agreements to perform labor at a later date. During the earliest days, corn was the standard medium of exchange, as roughly 12 pounds of corn was equated to one hour’s worth of work. As time went on and the types of labor being exchanged became more complex, individual parties would come to an agreement that was equitable for both sides. At its core, the Cincinnati Time Store sought to never see one person take advantage of the labor from another.

Though things did not run smoothly initially, Warren was proven to be a success before long. While the initial intent of the Time Store was not to put any other stores out of business, Warren’s goods were consistently less expensive than those sold at other businesses. In fact, the Time Store was so successful that some local businesses began pricing goods and accepting payment the same way Warren’s store was. Josiah Warren closed his Cincinnati Time Store in the middle of 1830 to pursue other, similar ventures.

What most people agree on however, is that Josiah Warren more than effectively proved that his Labor Theory of Value had merit and could work in our modern society. This, however, is only where the history of timebanking first began. It wasn’t until later in the 20th century that timebanking as we know it today came to fruition.

Edgar Cahn Takes Timebanking to the 20th Century

While the idea of timebanking had been around for more than 100 years (even if it was not referred to as “timebanking”), it was not until 1980 that modern timebanking really took off. According to Timebanks USA’s interpretation of the history of timebanking, Edgar’s motivation for creating a system of service credits, as they were known, had everything to do with then-US President Ronald Reagan slashing funding for all sorts of social programs. Understanding that the government was no longer going to support local communities like it long had, Cahn devised a solution that required no government funding whatsoever.

It was in St. Louis, Missouri that the first modern timebanking took place, at the Grace Hill Settlement House. Through the Settlement House’s Member Organization Resource Exchange (MORE) program, 1984 saw the first service credits exchanged between members. Eventually, service credits received the name ‘time dollars’, but that name was eventually changed to timebanking just before the turn of the 21st century. Since the 1980s, timebanking has caught on not only in the United States, but around the world as well. In the earliest days, timebanks almost always had a physical location that would act as a headquarters, for lack of a better term. While that is still true in many cases today, many timebanks have moved online to more easily organize and more quickly transact. With that being said, not everyone who sets up a timebank is technically savvy, and the result often ends up being a confusing, difficult to use site that makes timebanking more of a pain than a solution. For this reason, we suggest looking into what Nomos can bring to the table for existing, new, or future timebanks.

Nomos is a perfect example of the recent implementation of technology to the system of timebanking. Nomos brings the multitude of timebanking platforms onto one network that is simple to use and consistent whether you are timebanking in North America, Europe, or anywhere else in the world. You can quickly and easily link up with a timebank that is local to you, find a timebank somewhere else, or even start a timebank all your own.


  1. The Cincinnati Time Store As An Historical Precedent For Societal Change


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