Highlights from over 100 years at the forefront of public policy.

More than a century ago, our founding Board of Trustees and scholars opened the doors of the nation’s first independent organization devoted to public-policy research. While our focus remains on the future, the Institution is proud to celebrate its legacy of impact and showcase the many contributions our experts have made to address complex challenges and inform critical decisions during some of the most important inflection points in recent history.

The Beginnings


1916: The Institute for Government Research (IGR) is founded by Robert S. Brookings.

Learn more about our founder »

Louis Meriam, Levertt Lyon, William F. Willoughby, and Edwin G. Nourse
Louis Meriam, Levertt Lyon, William F. Willoughby, and Edwin G. Nourse meet. Source: Brookings Archives.

1921: IGR scholar William Franklin Willoughby drafts the legislation that becomes the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, which created the first U.S. Bureau of the Budget. Learn more »

1927: IGR merges with the Institute of Economics (founded 1922) and the Robert Brookings Graduate School of Economics and Government (founded 1923) to form the Brookings Institution.

1928: The League of Nations adopts Brookings’ standardization plan for reporting international trade and financial statements.

Photo from Indian Survey Trip, 1926-27. Source: Brookings Archives.

1928: Brookings scholar Lewis Meriam publishes findings from his comprehensive survey on the socioeconomic conditions in Indian Country, exposing major hardships caused by the U.S. government’s allotment and assimilation policies. The Meriam Report led to significant changes in federal policy and remains relevant today. In 2023, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch cited the Meriam Report in his opinion rejecting a challenge to the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law aiming to preserve Native American family ties.

World War II


A Short War Through American Industrial Superiority
A Short War Through American Industrial Superiority

1934: The Institution publishes four works known as the “capacity studies” on income distribution and economic progress. The pioneering studies focus on production and consumption capacity, capital, and market speculation in the 1920s, and income distribution as it relates to the efficient functioning of the U.S. economic system. These capacity studies become the major guide to the U.S. economy for policymakers for much of the decade. Learn more »

1935: The Social Security Act, shaped by the research and recommendations of Brookings experts Lewis Meriam and Wilbur J. Cohen, passes on August 14.

1938–1940s: Throughout World War II, Brookings experts recommend policies on a variety of issues, including wartime price controls, military mobilization, German and American manpower requirements, and later, postwar demobilization and preventing Germany and Japan from re-arming. Learn more »



Cover page of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on a European Recovery Plan, January 22, 1948

1948: At the request of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Brookings scholars play a pivotal role in the development of the European Recovery Program (also known as the Marshall Plan), providing valuable recommendations on the program’s administrative organization. Learn more »

1949: Brookings scholars Charles Dearing and Wilfred Owen publish “National Transportation Policy,” recommending the creation of a new department of transportation headed by a new cabinet secretary.

1957: Brooking launches an executive education program for federal employees, designed to improve government productivity—the forerunner of today’s Brookings Executive Education, which continues to offer courses for federal employees on critical issues, the policymaking process, and public leadership.

1958: Brookings Institution Press, an integral part of the Brookings mission since its founding, grows from an outlet for institutional research into a scholarly press publishing a range of peer-reviewed titles and joins the Association of American University Presses.

1959: Brookings’ Marshall Robinson publishes “The National Debt Ceiling: An Experiment in Fiscal Policy,” which argues that the debt ceiling had not only failed but backfired. Robinson wrote, “Elimination of the debt ceiling…[would] end the spectacle of our Government resorting to the petty practice of evading its bills.” The study is cited in policy debates about the debt ceiling during the 1960s and onward, including as recently as 2023.

Brookings Study Finds Legal Debt Limit is Futile – The Washington Post June 15, 1959
Technology and Exploration


Façade of Brookings’s building on Massachusetts Avenue

1960: Brookings moves to its current location on Massachusetts Avenue, just east of Dupont Circle.

The Foreign Policy Program is established at Brookings. Emerging from the International Studies Group, founded in 1946, it becomes the Institution’s third research program.

A team of Brookings researchers led by Donald N. Michael publish a report for NASA examining the potential societal impacts of space exploration and the possible consequences of discovering extraterrestrial life, including the potential psychological, sociological, and political effects of such discoveries on human civilization. The report remains a significant document in the field of space exploration and continues to provoke discussion and debate among researchers and enthusiasts. Learn more »

1961: In the lead up to the transition between the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, Brookings scholars Laurin Henry and George Graham respectively author an influential text on presidential handovers and lead an advisory group in preparing a set of confidential memos for the incoming president, all with the goal of minimizing disruptions and ensuring a smooth transfer of power. Learn more » 

John F. Kennedy and former Brookings' President Robert Calkins

1963: Brookings Foreign Policy and Government Studies programs partner with several Latin American research organizations to study trade and investment policies, a collaboration that lasts into the early 1980s.

1966: Brookings establishes the Social Science Computation Center for Research, offering state-of-the-art computational research support for scholars, including use of a mainframe computer.

1969: Brookings establishes the Defense Analysis Project to study issues such as defense support costs and U.S., NATO, and Soviet force structures.

Brookings President Robert D. Calkins (l) with President Lyndon B. Johnson at the Brookings 50th Anniversary Celebration, September 1966 (Reni News Photo Service)
Brookings President Robert D. Calkins (l) with President Lyndon B. Johnson at the Brookings 50th Anniversary Celebration, September 1966 (Reni News Photo Service)

In an address celebrating Brookings’ 50th anniversary, President LBJ says: “You are a national institution, so important to…the Executive Branch—and, I think, the Congress, and the country—that if you did not exist we would have to ask someone to create you.”

Equality and Efficiency


1970: Brookings scholars Arthur Okun and George Perry introduce the first edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, a highly influential and respected economics journal that continues today as a journal and semi-annual conference. Learn more about BPEA »

Arthur Okun in his office at Brookings, mid-1970s
Arthur Okun in his office at Brookings, mid-1970s

1975: In “Equality and Efficiency,” Brookings scholar Arthur Okun explores “the big tradeoff” between society’s desire to reduce inequality and the risk of impairing economic efficiency. The book also examines how redistributing income affects economic growth. Learn more »

Alice Rivlin

1971: Brookings begins a new series of studies on the federal budget and congressional spending choices, and eventually pushes for the creation of the Congressional Budget Office. Brookings scholar Alice Rivlin becomes its founding director in 1975.

A school bus with children wearing coats, seated three across.
Children in Charlotte, North Carolina ride a bus together, 1973

1978: Brookings publishes Gary Orfield’s book, “Must We Bus? Segregated Schools and National Policy,” a seminal work that examines racial segregation in U.S. schools and the contentious practice of mandatory busing. The book provides valuable insights into the historical context, legal battles, and policy implications of school desegregation, informing efforts to combat segregation and promote equal access to education.

1979: Brookings scholar Leslie Gelb and Brookings research associate Richard Betts conclude in “The Irony of Vietnam,” that while the foreign policy outcome of America’s involvement in Vietnam was a failure, the decision-making system worked as designed. Yale historian Gaddis Smith wrote that “If an historian were allowed but one book on the American involvement in Vietnam, this would be it.”

Joseph Pechman

1986: Brookings scholar Joseph Pechman’s research on the need for comprehensive reform of the U.S. tax code leads to the Tax Reform Act of 1986, a major bill with profound impacts on the American economy.

Post-Cold War Era


1992: Brookings scholar Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute issue their first report on ways to improve Congressional debate and action on legislation, enhance relationships between parties, rectify the campaign finance system, and repair the internal support structure of Congress; their work makes a significant contribution to the debate about Congressional reform.

1995: The Brookings Institution joins the online world with the launch of its website. Learn more »

Book titled "The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War"1994: In his book “The Great Transition,” Raymond Garthoff, a Brookings scholar and former U.S. diplomat, offers a comprehensive analysis of the diplomatic and political dynamics that led to the end of the Cold War. Drawing on extensive research and access to classified documents, Garthoff provides valuable insights into the intricate relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. He sheds light on key negotiations, regional conflicts, and the evolving dynamics within the Soviet Union itself. Widely acclaimed as a seminal work in Cold War studies, “The Great Transition” remains a significant resource for understanding this transformative period in history.

1996: In “Growing Artificial Societies,” Brookings scholars Joshua M. Epstein and Robert L. Axtell introduce a new way to study complex social systems using computer-based models. By simulating human social interactions, the researchers uncover valuable insights into how social phenomena emerge and evolve, offering a fresh perspective on understanding society and inspiring further research in the field of computational social science.

Screen shot of a computer simulation by Joshua Epstein

1999: The Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy applies new geographic information system (GIS) analysis to visually depict the social and economic trends in greater Washington, D.C. The resulting report, “A Region Divided,” reveals an unspoken truth: a DC area divided by race, class, and opportunity. The report elevates discussions about racial inequality and jumpstarts efforts to invest in underserved regions to promote more balanced growth and bridge the wealth and opportunity gap.

New Millennium


Isabel Sawhill speaking at a Brookings event on welfare reform on November 16th, 2006.

2001: After President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill in 1996, Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, a former Republican congressional staffer and former official in the Office of Management and Budget for President Clinton, teamed up at Brookings to study the nation’s policies on children and families. Their research and analysis leads to bipartisan support in Congress for extending the benefits of the Child Tax Credit to lower- and middle-income families as part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, which George W. Bush signs into law in June 2001.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Brookings mobilizes immediately to conduct press briefings and public events and provide critical analysis on America’s new War on Terror. Brookings scholars discuss changes in domestic policy following the attack while regional experts on Europe, Russia, China, India, and the Middle East explored potential implications for international relations. Brookings experts also produce influential proposals for homeland security and intelligence operations, testify before Congress, and develop new policy proposals to address transnational terrorism.

The Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 20001 - Reuters/Sara K. Schwittek
Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001  (Reuters/Sara K. Schwittek)

2003: The Continuity of Government Commission, a joint effort between Brookings and the American Enterprise Institute, issues the first of a set of reports on how to carry on the functions of government in the event of a massive and catastrophic attack on the main institutions of the U.S. government. These reports are:

2004: The Metropolitan Policy Program is established at Brookings. Emerging from the Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, it becomes the Institution’s fourth research program. Bruce Katz and Amy Liu are the program’s co-founders.

The first annual Brookings Blum Roundtable focuses on America’s role in the fight against global poverty. Learn more »

Brookings scholars William Gale, J. Mark Iwry, and Peter Orszag make the case that helping Americans save for retirement requires financial incentives for low- and middle-income workers coupled with new corporate practices to make saving easier; the legislation inspired by their work makes them three of the most-quoted and most-influential economists in the United States.

Lael Brainard speaking at a Brookings event on reforming India’s financial system on September 12th, 2008.

2006: Brookings establishes its fifth research program, Global Economy and Development. Lael Brainard is the program’s first vice president and director. She later serves as undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and a Federal Reserve governor.

Brookings scholars discuss the Iraq Study Group Report

2006: Michael O’Hanlon, William Quandt, Martin S. Indyk, Carlos Pascual, Kenneth Pollack, Shibley Telhami, and Strobe Talbott advise the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which evaluates U.S. strategy in Iraq, recommending intensified diplomacy and increased numbers of U.S. combat troops in Iraq. Brookings scholars continue to provide analysis and recommendations throughout the Iraq War.

Brookings Institution hosts President Barack Obama for his discussion of economics and jobs Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2009 in Washington. (Sharon Farmer/sfphotoworks)

2009: President Barack Obama chooses Brookings as the venue for announcing his plan for creating jobs and spurring economic growth. Brookings experts shape the debate on how best to recover from the Great Recession with a steady stream of analysis and recommendations on fiscal and monetary stimulus plans, as well as the automotive and banking bailouts.

2009: Brookings publishes “Bending the Curve,” a seminal report that tackles the challenge of escalating healthcare costs and offers comprehensive recommendations for transforming the U.S. healthcare system. Widely recognized for its impact, the report has influenced policy discussions and provided a roadmap for policymakers, healthcare providers, and stakeholders seeking innovative approaches to improve healthcare quality and control costs.

2011: The Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011 is enacted, incorporating key recommendations from the Brookings report, “A Half-Empty Government Can’t Govern,” by experts E.J. Dionne, Jr. and William Galston.

Expert Homi Kharas

2013: Brookings scholars provide formative input on the development of the United Nations’ Millennium Sustainable Development Goals. Homi Kharas is appointed lead author and executive secretary for the “Report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda,” which provides a road map for the future of global development efforts.

Global Cities Initiative – Bruce Katz, Kevin Faulconer, and Boris Johnson

2016: The work of the Global Cities Initiative leads to over 28 regions in the United States—representing 30 percent of the U.S. economy—producing global trade and investment strategies focused on exports, foreign direct investment, and other drivers of global competitiveness.

2017: Brookings scholarship, through the work of experts like William G. Gale and Adam Looney, as well as the research conducted by the Tax Policy Center, plays a crucial role in informing the development of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.



The pioneering work of Brookings experts continues.