CFR History

In the wake of the difficult 1919 Paris Peace Conference negotiations and the U.S. Senate’s rejection of the Treaty of Versailles, a group of diplomats, financiers, scholars, and lawyers concluded that Americans needed to be better prepared for significant responsibilities and decision-making in world affairs. With this in mind, they founded the Council on Foreign Relations in 1921 to “afford a continuous conference on international questions affecting the United States, by bringing together experts on statecraft, finance, industry, education, and science.”

CFR’s early members believed it was important for the institution to be both nonpartisan and noncommercial. Members were chosen for their knowledge of foreign affairs and their ability to contribute to discussions and debate. Important statesmen were invited to speak and answer questions at meetings, and small groups were formed to discuss serious issues of the day and publish their findings. These traditions continue as an important part of CFR’s mission.

For a more complete account of CFR's founding and history, view Peter Grose's book Continuing the Inquiry.

photo of CFR founders

Former secretary of state and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elihu Root (second from left) was one of the founders of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is shown here (left to right) with CFR President John W. Davis, U.S. secretary of war Newton D. Baker, and Foreign Affairs editor Hamilton Fish Armstrong.