“This ain’t a new idea; there’s a long history of it”. This is Walter Isaacson’s rather blunt summation of crowdfunding. While the technology that powers platforms and enables debt and equity raises might be innovative, the Steve Jobs biographer is right that collecting a little from a lot isn’t new. Here are some donation-based crowdfunding campaigns from history.
HOISTING LADY LIBERTY
The go-to example, the Statue of Liberty got a leg up from crowdfunding. Designed by Frenchman Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the statue – a present to commemorate America’s centennial year of independence – was left without a pedestal when funding ran out. In response, then publisher of The New York World Joseph Pulitzer launched a crowdfunding campaign: anyone who donated a dollar received a mini Statue. More than 120,000 people put in, raising over $100,000.
FUND ME, AMADEUS
In 1783, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote three concertos, but lacked the funds to have them performed. He appealed for backers, but failed to raise enough. A year later, he had another stab, this time with a rewards-based campaign that promised each contributor inclusion of their name on the manuscript. All 176 donors were listed and, in 1785, the performances were finally held.
CASH FOR TRANSLATIONS
In 1713, Alexander Pope crowdfunded his translation of all 15,693 lines of Homer’s Iliad – with 750 backers behind him. It took him five years to complete the six volumes, but the translation endures to this day.