There was recognition after World War II that one of the important factors allowing the U.S. to win the war was an unprecedented mobilization of scientific and industrial resources by a combination of private companies, philanthropists, and government. (See, for instance, 1940 item on the creation of radar on our list of Prosperity achievements.) In 1946 the U.S. Army launched an effort to institutionalize such cooperative research free from government bureaucracy, calling it Project RAND (for research and development). In 1948, the Ford Foundation provided a $1 million interest-free loan, plus a guarantee on a private bank loan, to allow the organization to become an independent nonprofit called the RAND Corporation. This was the first of many grants from Ford to RAND.
National-security issues dominated RAND’s initial research agenda. Its first report, involving satellites, was issued a decade before Sputnik. The group’s experts subsequently formulated nuclear strategies, proposed new weapons, and started fresh fields like terrorism studies and systems analysis (which aims to improve organizational decision-making). RAND’s early research on computers helped develop the Internet, and its researchers sped magnetic-core memory, video recording, and other technologies.
The nonprofit gradually evolved into a broad “think tank” (one of the first progenitors of such organizations). Today, RAND remains active on military topics but also studies everything from obesity to educational accountability. In 2014, it had revenues of $270 million, with about half coming from the Pentagon and most of the rest from non-military government agencies. Roughly 10 percent came from philanthropic contributions.
- RAND history from Invention & Technology, rand.org/pubs/reprints/RP1396.html
- Alex Abella, Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire (Harcourt, 2008)