Moments in Time: 1930 – 1939



  • The Foundation grants support the preparation of the Dictionary of American Biography and of critical texts of Spenser and Chaucer.
  • The American Council of Learned Societies, which from the beginning derived most of its support from the General Education Board and then from the Foundation, receives the first of many additional grants to support fellowships in humanistic studies.


  • A grants program aimed at a better understanding of reproductive biology results in fundamental work that leads to the development of better contraceptives. The National Research Council’s Committee for Research in Problems of Sex receives more than $1 million. The Foundation grants $1 million to five universities around the US for research on reproductive endocrinology.
  • The Great Depression brings added emphasis on social science and economics research. Grants are made to leading centers for research: the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Social Science Research Council, and the London School of Economics.


  • The Foundation begins its attack on another public health hazard—schistosomiasis, a disease caused by the liver fluke carried by snails living in canals of irrigated lands—with the publication of a study of the disease in Egypt (see image from the research above).
  • The Foundation grants are used to establish full-time departments of psychiatry in teaching hospitals and medical schools, including Chicago, Duke, Harvard, McGill, St. Louis, Tulane, Yale and Washington.
  • Warren Weaver comes to the Foundation and during his 27-year association becomes the principal architect of programs in the natural sciences. He sees his task as being “to encourage the application of the whole range of scientific tools and techniques, and specially those which had been so superbly developed in the physical sciences, to the problems of living matter.” Later, Weaver would coin the term “molecular biology.”


  • Beginning in 1933 and extending for more than two decades, the Foundation expends $1.5 million in identifying and assisting 300 scientists and scholars fleeing Nazi Germany to settle in friendly locations. Many relocate to US universities.


  • For the first time, the Foundation takes up work in agriculture when trustees approve a program of rural reconstruction in China. In addition to agriculture, the new program embraces sanitation, preventive medicine (above), marketing, rural economy and community work. World War II ends the program.


  • A vaccine to prevent yellow fever is developed in the Foundation’s New York City laboratories. Over the next 16 years, the Foundation spends nearly $14 million in its fight against yellow fever, the equivalent of $200 million in current dollars.
  • The Foundation decides to enter new fields in the humanities and arts: libraries and museums, drama, radio, motion pictures, American studies, and the collection and interpretation of native cultural materials. A film library, established at the Museum of Modern Art, wins international recognition. A year earlier, a special trustee committee had reviewed the humanities program and found it wanting: “It frankly appears to your committee that a program in the humanities, based on a cloistered kind of research, is wide of the goal…It is getting us facts but not necessarily followers.”


  • The first of several grants assist Australia’s Dr. H. W. Florey in developing the clinical use of penicillin.
  • Raymond B. Fosdick becomes president of the Rockefeller Foundation and serves until 1948.
  • The Foundation supports work leading to the development of two pioneering devices for biochemistry research. Grants to the University of Wisconsin leads to the development of America’s first— and the world’s third—ultracentrifuge. The Foundation also supports early work on the mass spectrometer.
  • In the state of Washington, more than 70,000 people attend productions of Shakespeare’s plays, produced by traveling companies supported by the Foundation.


  • For more than 15 years, the Foundation supports the joint work of biologist Thomas Hunt Morgan, his successor George W. Beadle, and chemist Linus Pauling, all at the California Institute of Technology. Their collaborative work pioneers the concept of interdisciplinary research. Each later wins the Nobel Prize (Pauling wins two), placing them among the more than 221 men and women assisted by the Foundation who subsequently receive Nobel Prizes.


  • Grants to the Authors League of America and a year later to the National Theater Conference enable more than 100 fellowships for writers, including the then-struggling author Tennessee Williams.


  • Language study and research grants encourage teaching and comprehension of less-common languages: Russian, Turkish and Arabic.
  • A grant to the Library of Congress enables the development of popular education programs using library materials, including 20,000 recordings in the Archives of American Folk Song.
  • Anopheles gambiae, a dangerous malaria-carrying mosquito, carried from Africa to Brazil, is eradicated under the leadership of the Foundation’s Dr. Fred L. Soper. A trained embryologist, Soper had been recruited by the Foundation’s International Health Board in 1918. After two years of public health training, he takes a three-week course in parasitology, focusing on hookworm, malaria and intestinal protozoa, then sets sail with his bride for Brazil to begin his first assignment.
Health Care in China

Part of a preventative medicine program in China initiated by the Foundation in the 1930s: demonstrating infant care (top) and nurses self-administering vaccines (bottom).