The word Franchise comes from the old French meaning, privilege or freedom. In the middle ages a franchise was a privilege or a right. In those days, the local sovereign or lord would grant the right to hold markets or fairs, to operate the local ferry or to hunt on his land. This concept extended to the Kings granting a franchise for all manner of commercial activities such as building roads and the brewing of ale. In essence the king was giving someone the right to a monopoly for a certain type of commercial activity. Over time the regulations governing franchises became a part of European Common Law.
Over the centuries the franchising concept has evolved as the economies of the nations of the world have evolved. In the 1840's in Germany certain major ale brewers granted franchises to certain taverns, giving those taverns the exclusive right to sell their ale. This was the beginning of the concept of franchising as we know it today. In 1851, the Singer Sewing Machine Company began granting distribution franchises for their sewing machines. Singer had written franchise contracts which were the forerunners of modern franchise agreements. In the 1880's cities began to grant monopoly franchises to street car companies and utilities for water, sewerage, gas and later electricity.
Around the turn of the century, the oil refinery companies and the automobile manufacturers began to grant the right to sell their products. At this stage in the evolution of franchising it was essentially just the granting of the right to distribute and sell a manufacturers' products.
Business format franchising, which is the dominant mode of franchising today came onto the economic scene after World War II with the return of the millions of US servicemen and women and the subsequent baby boom. The baby boom is still driving the economy and will continue to do so for quite some time. There was an overwhelming need for all types of products and services, and franchising was the ideal business model for the rapid expansion of the hotel/motel and fast food industries. During the explosion of the 60's and 70's there were many abuses in franchising. There will always be the unscrupulous con men/women among us, ready to prey on the uninformed and gullible. There were a number of totally fraudulent franchise companies which literally took peoples money and ran, and there were a number of companies that were undercapitalized and poorly managed which went bankrupt, leaving a trail of failed franchisees who lost everything.
It became clear that the franchise industry had to change in order to remain a viable business concept. On the industry side, The International Franchise Association was created with the specific intent of uplifting the entire industry. The IFA holds training in all aspects of franchising which greatly enhances the professionalism of the industry. Members of the IFA are required to adhere to the IFA's Code of Ethics which sets a high standard. The IFA works closely with the US Congress and the Federal Trade Commission on improving how the industry relates to the franchisees.
On the government regulatory side, the Federal Trade Commission, in 1978, required that all franchisers submit to all potential franchisees a document called the Uniform Offering Circular or UFOC, before receiving money. Since then, the UFOC became the FDD (Franchise Disclosure Document). The FDD provides very detailed information on the franchise company, such as its history, information about the officers, litigation history, audited financial statements, the franchise agreement, which is the contract between the franchiser and franchisee and a current list of franchises with owners names and telephone numbers. The intent of the FDD is that it provide enough information so that the prospective franchisee can make an informed decision. The FTC doesn't actually review the FDD unless there is a complaint and it decides to conduct an investigation.
Also, there are a number of states called registration states which have their own requirements that must be met before a franchiser is allowed to sell franchises in their states. In some cases these requirements are more stringent than the FTC's.
There are several franchisee associations which work to protect the interests of franchisees.
Today, franchising is a highly regulated industry which offers a great opportunity to those individuals who truly want to realize their dream and go into business for themselves.