Moments in Time: 1940 – 1949



  • The Foundation supports work to improve the design of the Van de Graaff accelerator and makes a grant to Dr. Ernest Lawrence for research on a 154-inch cyclotron—two tools of physics used to study the nuclei of atoms.
  • The Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by musical titan Serge Koussevitzky, receives $60,000 to establish the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. “The significance of this plan,” reads the proposal, “lies in its national character and in its treatment of music as a living art.”
  • Walter W. Stewart becomes chair of the board of trustees and serves until 1950.


  • RF supports developmental work on the electron microscope, then underwrites electron microscopy laboratories at several universities.
  • Three American scholars—E. C. Stakman, Richard Bradfield and Paul C. Magelsdorf—study the possibility of developing an agricultural program to raise the yield of Mexican agriculture, an idea first proposed to Foundation President Fosdick by then-US Vice President Henry Wallace. That research eventually leads to what becomes known as the Green Revolution, which helped end widespread hunger in Latin America, India and Southeast Asia.
  • A decade of support for language studies, guided largely by the American Council of Learned Societies, culminates in the development of the methodology of the US Army language training program. The Foundation funds translations, grammars, dictionaries and bibliographies.


  • A Foundation grant supports the first major study to determine the effects of forced resettlement of the Japanese population as a US war measure.
  • The complete card catalog of the two-million-volume Library of Congress is reproduced by an early form of photolithography and made available to 50 leading libraries of the world, from Australia to Vatican City.
  • The importance of regional cultures in the US is highlighted in a program assisting the Texas State Historical Association in carrying out studies of the Southwest, the University of Wisconsin in studying the development of that state, and the Huntington Library in Pasadena for studies on the culture of the Pacific Southwest, and others.


  • A Mexican agricultural program designed to increase food crop production through research and development is inaugurated on-site in cooperation with the Mexican Department of Agriculture.


  • The Foundation makes a grant to the University of Virginia to support Dumas Malone for his monumental biography of Thomas Jefferson.
  • The first grant of an eventual $2 million total is made to develop Princeton’s Office of Population Research, which demonstrates connections between population and development in the developing world.


  • The Foundation establishes the Atlantic Awards to assist promising British writers “dislocated and exhausted” after the war, with 47 writers, poets and playwrights receiving awards. In the US, grants are made to Kenyon Review, Sewanee Review and Pacific Spectator to subsidize young writers. Among those authors are: Irving Howe, Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin, John Berryman and Elizabeth Bishop.
  • The American Library Association purchases and in some instances microfilms 35 sets of books and sets of 350 US scholarly journals for distribution to war-ravaged libraries in Europe and Asia. A similar program for British publications is funded by the Foundation through the Royal Society in London.


  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology receives Foundation support to study the design and construction of Vannevar Bush’s mechanical differential analyzer, the forerunner of the computer.
  • Columbia University’s Russian Institute is established with Foundation support, creating the first “area studies” center in the US. Others follow.
  • The Foundation’s single largest appropriation of the year, $7.5 million, goes to the General Education Board to boost its declining resources. The Board’s work is now focused almost exclusively on the promotion of education for blacks and whites across the South.
  • Further grants are made to support completion of the 200-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory, San Diego County, which received its first Foundation funds in 1928.


  • The Foundation grants $10 million to the China Medical Board as the concluding grant for Peking Union Medical College.


  • The Foundation divisions of social sciences, health and natural sciences combine to fund the first effort to comprehensively survey socio-economic conditions in developing countries. The work is carried out on the island of Crete in order to develop techniques and procedures applicable to developing areas where an interdisciplinary approach is appropriate.
  • Chester I. Barnard becomes president of the Rockefeller Foundation and serves until 1952.
  • A Foundation fact-finding team visits the Far East at the urging of John D. Rockefeller III and concludes that only Asian professionals can come to grips with Asian population problems. Over the next eight years, the Foundation makes 45 grants exceeding $2.2 million toward that goal.


  • The Foundation launches a 12-year program in area studies, designed to promote research leading to “increased understanding of one culture by members of another.” Universities in the US, Canada, Great Britain, France, Turkey, Germany, India and Japan receive grants.
  • Erwin Chargaff, a biochemist at Columbia University, announces the "Chargaff Ratios”—This work proves critical to the 1953 Nobel Prize-winning description of the structure of DNA by James D. Watson and Francis Crick that describes the structure of DNA. Chargaff began receiving Foundation support in 1933 as an Austrian refugee fleeing from Nazi persecution.
Computer's forerunner

1946: MIT receives RF support to study the design and construction of Vannevar Bush’s mechanical differential analyzer, the forerunner of the computer.