Fresh from leading humanitarian relief efforts during World War I, future President Herbert Hoover founded the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University in 1919. His goal was to create an archive on the Great War so that future generations would learn its lessons. With an initial gift of $50,000, Hoover funded scholars to travel to Europe so they could hunt down relevant historical documents and bring them back to Stanford. The Hoover Institution soon focused on other aspects of twentieth-century history—most notably the Russian Revolution and the development of the Soviet Union. Hoover encouraged ambitious scholarship and publication, with an eye toward warning Americans about the dangers of communism.
Following his one term as President (1929-1933), Hoover returned to his namesake organization. He eventually came into conflict with the increasingly liberal faculty at Stanford, and in 1959 wrested control of the Hoover Institution from the professors, ensuring its independence while maintaining a link to the university. His statement to the Stanford trustees that year outlines the mission of his organization:
This Institution supports the Constitution of the United States…and its method of representative government. Both our social and economic systems are based on private enterprise from which springs initiative and ingenuity…. Ours is a system where the Federal Government should undertake no governmental, social or economic action, except where local government, or the people, cannot undertake it for themselves…. This Institution is…to recall man’s endeavors to make and preserve peace, and to sustain for America the safeguards of the American way of life.
Major donors to the Hoover Institution in its early decades included Alfred Sloan Jr., Jeremiah Milbank, and the Lilly family. Over time, the organization grew into an important think tank. Its experts provided public-policy advice to Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California. Top-flight scholars took up residence—like Robert Conquest, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell.
Even as it became an important policy generator, the institution remained true to its historical mission, providing a home for the papers of Friedrich Hayek, for Hoover himself outside of his years in national government (those records are at his Presidential library in Iowa), and for rich archives in areas like communism, war and peace, intelligence, business and commerce, and more.
The Hoover Institution’s budget was $47 million in 2014, with 59 percent of its income coming as philanthropic gifts, and 39 percent more deriving from earnings on its endowment of several hundred million dollars.
- George Nash, Herbert Hoover and Stanford University (Hoover Institution Press, 1988)