The World Bank Group Archives is frequently asked, “When was the World Bank born?” Well, there isn’t just one birthday for the Bank. There are three! The first came 76 years ago in July 1944, when representatives from 44 nations met at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Their objective was to establish a system of international cooperation that would help countries recover from the devastation wrought by the Second World War while facilitating long-term economic growth for recovering and developing nations alike. While years of planning and discussion preceded the conference, it was during these 22 days in July 1944 that the Articles of Agreement for both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were produced. The last "birthday" came in June 1946 when the World Bank opened its doors for its first day of operation. But what happened in between?
Imagine the delegates at Bretton Woods going back to their home countries in 1944 to advocate for membership in the World Bank and IMF, which would benefit their own economic prosperity and provide tangible benefits of being part of a larger multilateral community of nations. Not only did they need to create and put the legal instruments in place for their national or federal systems, but they were also keeping an eye on the major stakeholders – the United States and the United Kingdom – to see if those governments agreed to sign on. Over the next 18 months the debates within and between governments, in addition to the court of public opinion, were raging, but by early December 1945 it appeared that there were enough countries ready to commit. Indeed on December 27, 1945, 75 years ago this month, representatives from twenty-one countries convened in Washington, DC to become the Bank’s first members, thereby ratifying the Articles and ushering the Bank into existence.
"We can be thankful that the history we are now writing is not another chapter in the almost endless chronicle of war and strife. Ours is a mission of peace -- not just lip service to the ideals of peace -- but action, concrete action, designed to establish the economic foundations of peace on the bed rock of genuine international cooperation." -- Treasury Secretary Fred M. Vinson, signer of the Articles on behalf of the United States, speaking during the signing event in Washington DC on December 27, 1945.
To mark the 75th anniversary of the ratification of the Bank’s Articles of Agreement, the WBG Archives is launching several new products. First, our new video titled “Uncover the Treasures of the World Bank Group Archives”. This short video describes the possibilities available to researchers when they “jump in and explore” the holdings of the World Bank Group Archives. Click the image to the right or the link at the top right of this screen to view.
We‘re also releasing a new “Guide to the World Bank Group Archives”. This accessible introduction to conducting research in the Archives consolidates all the information you need to begin your research, including an overview of themes and topics, links to secondary sources, and guidance on how to use our catalog and submit a request. An appendix provides a list of thematically grouped descriptions of the Archives’ holdings in our online catalog. Click on the image to the right to take a look at the electronic version of the publication.
Finally, we have compiled country historic profiles for all the countries that signed the World Bank’s Articles of Agreement on December 27, 1945 and the weeks that followed. Each profile contains information about the Bank’s engagement with each country, such as membership, important “firsts,” and links to other historical resources such as photos, reports, oral histories and more. Browse below and learn more about each country while getting a sense of the information available from the World Bank Group Archives.
While we have completed these profiles for the first set of countries to join the World Bank, more countries will follow soon. Stay tuned!