Profiles of Brookings’s leaders since 1927

Brookings Building

John R. AllenThis week, John R. Allen becomes the Brookings Institution’s eighth leader. Allen is a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general and former commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and most recently served as chair of security and strategy and a distinguished fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings. He succeeds Brookings president Strobe Talbott, who served as the Institution’s president for more than 15 years.

Since its incorporation as the Brookings Institution in 1927, the Institution has been led by accomplished academics and public servants. That year marked the merger of Brookings’s predecessor organizations—the Institute for Government Research (founded in 1916), the Institute of Economics (1922), and the Robert S. Brookings Graduate School of Economics and Government (1923)—into the Brookings Institution. William F. Willoughby, an academic and public servant, was the first director of IGR. Here are brief profiles of new Brookings President John Allen’s predecessors since the 1927 merger and incorporation of the Brookings Institution. 

Harold Glenn Moulton (1927–1952)

harold glenn moultonIn 1927, the Brookings trustees chose Harold Moulton to be the Institution’s first president. He was a University of Chicago economist—where he earned his doctorate in 1914—and, since 1922, the director of the Institute of Economics (IE). In 1923, Moulton and IE staff economist Constantine McGuire wrote of post-Great War Europe that “the reparation situation has gone from very bad to worse.” In their reports they studied the ability of Germany and its allies on the losing side of World War I to pay the debts mandated by the Versailles Treaty. Moulton was Brookings president in late 1947 when Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, requested “a quick helping hand” from the Institution on questions concerning the European Recovery Program. Less than four weeks later, Brookings produced a 20-page report that guided what would become known as the Marshall Plan. Moulton was born in November 1883 in Rose Lake Township, Michigan, and died in December 1965 in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Robert D. Calkins (1952–1967)

robert calkinsEconomist and educator Robert Calkins became the second Brookings leader in 1952. Calkins was formerly director of the General Education Board, a foundation that promoted educational improvements in the South, and also an academic at UC Berkeley and dean of the Columbia University Business School. During his presidency, the Institution relocated from Jackson Place near the White House to its current home on Massachusetts Avenue, near Dupont Circle. During the 1960 president election, Brookings researchers prepared briefing papers on numerous policy issues for both the Kennedy and Nixon camps, and aided the incoming Kennedy administration with a smooth transition of power from Eisenhower. Born in Lebanon, Connecticut, Calkins died in Silver Spring, Maryland in July 1992, at the age of 89.

Kermit Gordon (1967–1976)

kermit gordonIn 1967, Kermit Gordon became the third president of Brookings. Prior to his tenure at Brookings, he served as the director of the U.S. Bureau of the Budget during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He also served in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Among many accomplishments, his role in creating a strong wage-price guidelines is well-regarded.  Under his leadership, Brookings first published a series of “Agenda for the Nation” volumes, which are collections of papers on domestic and foreign policy issues, and also launched the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA), which remains a highly influential economics journal 47 years later. In his posthumous tribute to Gordon published in BPEA, Walter Heller wrote that, “If anyone’s thinking, speaking, and writing in economics deserve the term ‘incandescent’—in the sense of shedding light, not heat—Kermit’s did.” Gordon was born in Philadelphia in 1916, and passed away in Washington, DC in June 1976.

Gilbert Y. Steiner (1976–1977)

gilbert steinerDuring Gordon’s illness and after his death, Brookings scholar Gilbert Steiner served as acting president of Brookings. He was director of the Governmental Studies program (now Governance Studies) from 1968 to 1976, and continued as a full-time scholar until 1989. During his tenure at Brookings and prior to that at the University of Illinois, Steiner published numerous works on social welfare programs, including “Social Insecurity: The Politics of Welfare” (1966) and “The Children’s Cause” (1976). Steiner was born in Brooklyn in May 1924, served in the Army during World War II, and died in Washington in March 2006.

Bruce K. MacLaury (1977–1995)

bruce maclauryThe Institution’s fifth leader, Bruce MacLaury, had previously served six years as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. MacLaury’s experience with the Federal Reserve system began in 1957 in Boston, and he also rose to be vice president of the New York Fed. He also worked in various posts in the U.S. Treasury Department and at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. During his leadership of Brookings, the Institution initiated a multi-year project on tax reform that helped inform the Tax Reform Act of 1986, and also launched the Institution’s first website in May 1995. The Bruce and Virginia MacLaury Chair, currently occupied by Senior Fellow Henry Aaron, is named for him. MacLaury served in the U.S. Army from 1954 to 1956, and was born in Mt. Kisco, New York. He now resides in the Washington, DC area.

Michael H. Armacost (1995–2002)

michael armacostUpon the retirement of Bruce MacLaury, the Institution’s Board of Trustees named Michael Armacost as the new president, the first to bring a career in foreign service to the position. Armacost previously served as undersecretary of state for political affairs (1984–89), and ambassador to Japan (1989–93), and the Philippines (1982–84), and held senior policy positions on the staff of the National Security Council (1977–78) and in the Departments of State and Defense. During his tenure at Brookings, the Institution’s scholars used agent-based computer models to study social interactions; focused on the emerging crisis of the internally displaced; contributed to bi-partisan support for extending the child tax credit; and oversaw the Institution’s early response to the challenges of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Armacost was born in Ohio and is now a fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute.

Strobe Talbott (2002–2017)

talbottsBefore becoming the seventh leader of Brookings in July 2002, Strobe Talbott served seven years as deputy secretary of state (1993-2001) and was ambassador-at-large for the new independent states of the former Soviet Union. Talbott was for many years a correspondent and editor for Time magazine, where he covered Eastern Europe, the State Department, and the White House. As president of Brookings, Talbott launched Brookings 2.0, a strategic vision for the Institution for the decades ahead. He also oversaw Brookings’s Second Century Campaign—the largest comprehensive fundraising campaign in think tank history—which has raised more than $650 million in support of independent policy research and analysis. During his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University, he translated Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs into English. Talbott was born in Dayton, Ohio.

To learn more about Brookings’s history, visit our history page on the website.