Kickstarter Before Kickstarter

Share this post

In 1713, Alexander Pope set out to translate 15,693 lines of ancient Greek poetry into English. It took five long years to get the six volumes right, but the result was worth the wait: a translation of Homer’s Iliad that endures to this day. How did Pope go about getting this project off the ground? Turns out he kind of Kickstarted it.

A year later, Pope crafted his pitch:

“This Work shall be printed in six Volumes in Quarto, on the finest Paper, and on a letter new Cast on purpose; with Ornaments and initial Letters engraven on Copper,” he wrote.

In exchange for a shout-out in the acknowledgements, an early edition of the book, and the delight of helping to bring a new creative work into the world, 750 subscribers pledged two gold guineas to support Pope’s effort before he put pen to paper. They were listed in an early edition of the book:

University of Rochester
University of Rochester

Monarchs and the Medici get a lot of credit for their role as patrons and rightfully so. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel on commission from Pope Julius II. Leonardo da Vinci’s "The Last Supper" was backed by the Duke of Milan. Galileo named Jupiter’s moons the “Medicean stars” for his benefactors. But Alexander Pope invited a broader audience to be a part of creating his work.

In 1783, Mozart took a similar path. He wanted to perform three recently composed piano concertos in a Viennese concert hall, and he published an invitation to prospective backers offering manuscripts to those who pledged:

“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).”

Alas, not all projects reach their funding goals, and Mozart fell short. A year later he tried again, and 176 backers pledged enough to bring his concertos to life. He thanked them in the concertos' manuscript:

Cornell University Library
Cornell University Library

In 1885, arguably the most ambitious project of all to find funding this way began. France was at work on a statue of the Roman goddess of freedom to give to the United States to celebrate its centennial. But the Statue of Liberty had no pedestal on which to stand in New York Harbor. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The New York World, launched a project for the construction of one.

The Statue of Liberty Club
The Statue of Liberty Club

Pulitzer published the project in his newspaper and offered rewards to supporters. For $1 a backer would get a six-inch statuette of Lady Liberty. More than 120,000 people from around the world pledged $102,006 to the project.

For centuries, artists and patrons experimented with the model that Kickstarter champions today. The biggest difference between then and now? The web makes the model exponentially more dynamic and accessible to all. Sometimes what seems new is actually very old.

We didn’t know about these examples when we started Kickstarter, but it was reassuring to discover them. Not only that the likes of Mozart used this model, but that we've always wanted to help each other bring creative works to life. That's what we strongly believed when we launched Kickstarter, and that's what's happening today.

Comments
    1. Alex Najdek on

      This is so cool. I had no idea that crowdfunding had a history. It's kind of heartwarming.

    2. Dan Balkwill on

      What an awesome 'reward'... Miniature Statue Of Liberty! I wonder how many of these still exist?

    3. Jonas Navickas on

      Here's to history repeating itself!

    4. Kevin Clark on

      Pulitzer also published letters from backers in his newspaper. They were ADORABLE.

    5. Piers Duruz | CrowdfundingDojo.com on

      Good ideas tend to repeat themselves. :)

      Clearly crowdfunding has always eben with us, but it's basically been Kickstarter taking it to the internet that has really made it blow up.

      There's still a lot of growth ahead, both in reaching new people, but also in helping people to understand how to do crowfunding right. Genuinely. Reaching the people who want to hear about what they're doing and in a way that is effective and non spammy.

      Currently, there are still too many people thinking that it's just "put up a page and watch the dollars come rolling in." In fact, just today I talked to someone with a current Kickstarter convinced that Kickstarter is a scam, because their unpromoted project with a terrible video only netted them $500 funding (out of about 7k).

      If crowdfunding has been around this long, you'd think people would have gotten the hang of it by now! It will be fascinating to see where it goes in the next 10 years, especially when you realize Kickstarter has only been around for a few years, and look at what hasm already been accomplished...

    6. Backercamp
      Superbacker
      on

      So cool

    7. Jana on

      These are great examples of crowdfunding! I wonder if there are even more...

    8. Luis Rodriguez on

      It is a great Concept. In more recent times, that is how PBS essentially works.

    9. Missing avatar

      Johnny5000 on

      @Jana:
      For mor examples you could also google "Assurance Contract" (this is what a Kickstarter Pledge Drive essentially is, in legal speak.)

    10. Matt Otto on

      That is all very cool, makes me think I could do a KS…but that sounds very scary, maybe you could give us tops on dos and don’ts of KS campaigns?

    11. Tara Mackey on

      This is absolutely amazing. I brought up a few of these people - and a few others - Edison, Ford & Franklin, during my early days speaking with people before launch! I'm hoping articles like this continue to shed some light onto what we're doing, and how long it's been around for! Thanks KS! xo

    12. J.J. Fecik on

      Thank you Kickstarter! I know it has been said so many times already but it is just AMAZING all that is happening here & it is so cool to see it has a history!

    13. Stanley N Lozowski on

      I never realized this, but during the Centennial years of the US Civil War (1961-1965), the group responsible for restoring and rebuilding the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia did it with Kickstarter type project. As a student of early American architecture (the groups goal was to turn the White House of the Confederacy building into a museum), I donated $100/month for a year towards the project...

    14. Dale Taylor on

      You left out Johnathan Swift's 1728 campaign to raise money for a potato salad recipe.

    15. Benedict Jones on

      NO....WAYY!!! Ultra-cool story...and even cooler is that my Dad's fabled stories of my great Grandfather getting one of these statues is actually true lol I had never known the origin of them. It's being conserved by a museum now!! Can't wait to actually see it :)

    16. Deborah Landry on

      It would be cool if we could find a original model of the statue. Anyone out there see it.

    17. Missing avatar

      Steven Yeung on

      The history of crowdfunding, great post. So my shipment of mt plegde was just delayed for another months is nothing compared to Iliad.

    18. Morty Mcfly on

      Most amazing thing in this thread is that a lot of people genuinely believe Kickstarter invented the quid pro quo princple. That's adorable.

    19. Missing avatar

      Namaku Keren on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    20. Missing avatar

      Doa Ibu Tersayang on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

Line icon alert icon Artboard Copy 8 arrow-down icon arrow-down arrow-left icon arrow-left arrow-point-left icon Fill 1 Copy 5 arrow-point-right icon Fill 1 arrow-right icon arrow-right arrow-up-right icon icon--arrow-up-right copy bar-chart icon Artboard Copy 6 bell icon Combined Shape Copy 5 book icon Artboard Copy 3 bookmark icon Fill 1 brand-assets icon Artboard Copy 13 cart icon Artboard Copy 4 chat icon chat check icon Fill 1 Copy 6 circle-back icon Fill 1 Copy 13 circle-forward icon Fill 1 Copy 16 circle-k icon circle-k circle-left icon circle-left circle-right icon circle-right clipboard icon Artboard Copy 12 clock icon Combined Shape close icon close closed-caption icon Fill 1 compass icon Combined Shape Copy 2 conversion icon conversion delta-down icon Fill 1 delta-left icon delta-right icon Fill 1 delta-up icon Fill 1 duplicate icon duplicate embed icon Combined Shape Copy 6 eye icon Combined Shape Copy 12 facebook-contained icon Facebook Contained facebook icon Facebook logo flag icon Fill 1 Copy 3 gear icon Fill 1 Copy 14 global-africa icon Fill 1 Copy 9 global-america icon Fill 1 Copy 10 global-asia icon Fill 1 Copy 17 graph-bar icon Combined Shape Copy 9 graph-line icon Combined Shape Copy 16 heart icon Fill 1 Copy 8 help icon human icon icon--human icon--alarm icon icon--alarm icon--alert icon icon--alert icon--arrow-down icon icon--arrow-down icon--arrow-left icon icon--arrow-left icon--arrow-right icon icon--arrow-right icon--arrow-up-right icon icon--arrow-up-right icon--arrow-up icon icon--arrow-up icon--backer-badge icon icon--backer-badge icon--bell icon icon--bell icon--bolt icon icon--bolt icon--bookmark-outline icon icon--bookmark-outline icon--bookmark icon icon--bookmark icon--calculator icon icon--calculator icon--calendar-check icon icon--calendar-check icon--calendar icon icon--calendar icon--campaign-outline icon icon--campaign-outline icon--check icon icon--check icon--chevron-down icon icon--chevron-down icon--chevron-left icon icon--chevron-left icon--chevron-right icon icon--chevron-right icon--chevron-up icon icon--chevron-up icon--circle-around icon icon--circle-around icon--circle-back icon icon--circle-back icon--circle-forward icon icon--circle-forward icon--circle-loader icon Page 1 icon--circle icon icon--clipboard icon icon--clipboard icon--clock icon icon--clock icon--closed-caption icon icon--closed-caption icon--code icon icon--code icon--collapse icon icon--collapse icon--commissions icon icon--commissions icon--compass icon icon--compass icon--confirmation icon icon--confirmation icon--conversion icon icon-conversion icon--cpu icon icon--curve-right icon icon--curve-right icon--cross icon icon--cross icon--delta-down icon icon--delta-down icon--delta-left icon icon--delta-left icon--delta-right icon icon--delta-right icon--delta-up icon icon--delta-up icon--download icon icon--download icon--ellipsis icon icon--expand icon icon--expand icon--external icon icon--external icon--eye icon icon--eye icon--facebook icon icon--facebook icon--filter icon icon--filter icon--flag icon icon--flag icon--frown-filled icon icon--frown icon icon--gear icon icon--gear icon--globe-africa icon icon--globe-africa icon--globe-america icon icon--globe-america icon--globe-asia icon icon--globe-asia icon--graph-bar icon icon--graph-bar icon--graph-line icon icon--graph-line icon--happy-filled icon icon--happy icon icon--heart-outline icon icon--heart outline icon--heart-thin-outline icon Fill 1 icon--heart icon icon--heart icon--home icon icon--home icon--home-with-door icon icon--human icon icon--human icon--humans icon icon--humans icon--image icon icon--image icon--inbox icon icon--inbox icon--info icon icon--info icon--instagram icon icon/instagram icon--lightbulb icon icon--lightbulb icon--link icon icon--link icon--lock-black-bg icon lock-icon icon--lock icon icon--lock icon--mail icon icon--mail icon--meh-filled icon icon--meh icon icon--menu icon icon--menu icon--message icon icon--message icon--mobile icon icon--mobile icon--overflow icon icon--overflow icon--pause icon icon--pause icon--pencil icon icon--pencil icon--pin icon icon--pin icon--pinterest icon icon--pinterest icon--play icon icon--play icon--plus-human icon icon--plus-human icon--plus icon icon--plus icon--prohibit icon icon--prohibit icon--project-budget icon icon--pull-quote icon icon--pull-quote icon--question-filled icon icon--question-filled icon--question icon icon--question icon--reorder icon icon-reorder icon--reply icon icon--reply icon--save icon icon--save icon--saved icon icon--saved icon--search icon icon--search icon--section-break icon icon--section-break icon--small-k icon icon--sound-hi icon icon--sound-hi icon--sound-lo icon icon--sound-lo icon--sound-mute icon icon--sound-mute icon--star-outline icon Star Outline icon--star icon icon--star icon--subtitles-captions icon icon--subtitles-captions icon--text-bold icon icon--text-bold icon--text-bullet icon icon--text-bullet icon--text-italic icon icon--text-italic icon--textalign-centered icon icon--textalign-centered icon--textalign-right icon icon--textalign-right icon--thumbs-down icon icon--thumbs-down icon--thumbs-up icon icon--thumbs-up icon--thumbsdown-outline icon icon--thumbsdown-outline icon--thumbsup-outline icon icon--thumbsup-outline icon--trash icon icon--trash icon--tumblr icon icon--tumblr icon--twitter icon icon--twitter icon--unlink icon Artboard icon--unlock icon icon--unlock icon--update-freeform-round icon icon--update-freeform-round icon--update-freeform icon icon--update-freeform icon--update-pinned icon Artboard icon--update-qa-round icon icon--update-qa-round icon--update-qa icon icon--update-qa icon--upload icon icon--upload icon--video icon icon--video icon--youtube icon icon--youtube icon-imagealign-center icon icon-imagealign-center icon-imagealign-left icon icon-imagealign-left icon-imagealign-right icon icon-imagealign-right info icon Combined Shape Copy instagram icon instagram copy kickstarter icon Artboard Copy 5 leaf icon leaf lightbulb icon icon--lightbulb link icon Combined Shape Copy 8 loading-spin icon lock icon Combined Shape Copy 4 mail icon Combined Shape map-pin icon Fill 1 menu icon Group message icon Fill 1 Copy 12 mobile icon Page 1 Copy 2 pause icon pause copy pencil icon Combined Shape Copy 3 pin icon Combined Shape Copy 11 pinterest icon pinterest play icon play copy plus-human icon icon--plus-human plus icon Fill 1 Copy 7 question icon Combined Shape Copy 14 search icon Fill 1 Copy 11 shapeshift icon share icon Fill 1 Copy slash icon solid-arrow icon solid-arrow sound-hi icon Combined Shape sound-lo icon Combined Shape sound-mute icon Combined Shape star icon Fill 1 Copy 2 stopwatch icon Group 2 thumbs-up icon Shape tools icon Shape trash icon Combined Shape tumblr icon tumblr copy twitter icon twitter copy user icon Artboard Copy 10 volume-up icon Artboard Copy 9 warning icon Combined Shape Copy 10 write icon Artboard Copy 11 x icon Fill 1 Copy 4 youtube icon Combined Shape