History of the Marshall Plan


The Need

Europe was devastated by years of conflict during World War II. Millions of people had been killed or wounded. Industrial and residential centers in England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium and elsewhere lay in ruins. Much of Europe was on the brink of famine as agricultural production had been disrupted by war. Transportation infrastructure was in shambles. The only major power in the world that was not significantly damaged was the United States.

Aid to Europe

From 1945 through 1947, the United States was already assisting European economic recovery with direct financial aid. Military assistance to Greece and Turkey was being given. The newly formed United Nations was providing humanitarian assistance. In January 1947, U. S. President Harry Truman appointed George Marshall, the architect of victory during WWII, to be Secretary of State. Writing in his diary on January 8, 1947, Truman said, “Marshall is the greatest man of World War II. He managed to get along with Roosevelt, the Congress, Churchill, the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he made a grand record in China. When I asked him to [be] my special envoy to China, he merely said, ‘Yes, Mr. President I’ll go.’ No argument only patriotic action. And if any man was entitled to balk and ask for a rest, he was. We’ll have a real State Department now.”

In just a few months, State Department leadership under Marshall with expertise provided by George Kennan, William Clayton and others crafted the Marshall Plan concept, which George Marshall shared with the world in a speech on June 5, 1947 at Harvard. Officially known as the European Recovery Program (ERP), the Marshall Plan was intended to rebuild the economies and spirits of western Europe, primarily. Marshall was convinced the key to restoration of political stability lay in the revitalization of national economies. Further he saw political stability in Western Europe as a key to blunting the advances of communism in that region.

The European Recovery Program

Sixteen nations, including Germany, became part of the program and shaped the assistance they required, state by state, with administrative and technical assistance provided through the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) of the United States. European nations received nearly $13 billion in aid, which initially resulted in shipments of food, staples, fuel and machinery from the United States and later resulted in investment in industrial capacity in Europe. Marshall Plan funding ended in 1951.


Marshall Plan nations were assisted greatly in their economic recovery. From 1948 through 1952 European economies grew at an unprecedented rate. Trade relations led to the formation of the North Atlantic alliance. Economic prosperity led by coal and steel industries helped to shape what we know now as the European Union.


  • Introduction and Chronology of the Marshall Plan from June 5 to November 5, 1947 – Thorsten V. Kalijarvi. (U.S. Library of Congress Legislative Reference Service) November 6, 1947. Chronology with excellent coverage of the committees established by President Truman and House of Representatives to analyze the initial report of the Committee of European Economic Co-operation and study the impact on the U.S. economy of aid to Western Europe.




Studies Prior to Implementation of the Marshall Plan


Committee Reports

  • European Recovery and American Aid – The “Harriman Committee” report by the President’s Committee on Foreign Aid. The committee “was asked to determine the limits within which the United States could safely and wisely extend aid to Western Europe.” Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg (Chairman Senate Foreign Relations Committee) stated that the Harriman Committee’s “ultimate report is one of the most comprehensive ever made to a public problem.”


Marshall Plan Funding Statistics


The Plan’s Relevance Today

Marshall Plan Podcasts

The Marshall Plan Volume

Marshall Plan VolumeA one-of-a-kind 3700-page volume containing the President Truman’s Message to Congress, public laws and accompanying reports authorizing programs and appropriating monies, and testimonies by General Marshall and other influential people before Congress.

It was compiled by Mr. Kenneth Sprankle, Clerk and Staff Director, Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives, at the request of Virginia Congressman J. Vaughn Gary. Congressman Gary served as Chairman, Special Subcommittee on Foreign Aid Committee on Appropriations during the congressional hearings on the European Recovery Program. The volume was presented to the Marshall Foundation in 1968 by Congressman Gary in the belief that it would be “better preserved and of more use in the Memorial library.”

The searchable PDF volume was digitized by the Virginia Tech office of Digital Imaging and Archiving whose focus is on “digitizing and preserving collections of importance to the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Listen to the WVTF Public Radio broadcast, “Digitizing History,” by Robbie Harris about the digitization of the Marshall Plan Volume.


Selected Bibliography for the Marshall Plan


  • U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Foreign Affairs. Emergency Foreign Aid: Hearings. 80th Cong., 1st sess. [November 1947]. Washington: GPO, 1947.
  • United States Foreign Policy for a Post-War Recovery Program: Hearings. 80th Cong., 1st and 2d sess. [December 1947-March 1948]. Washington: GPO, 1948.
  • U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Interim Aid for Europe: Hearings. 80th Cong., 1st sess. [November 1947]. Washington: GPO, 1947.
  • European Recovery Program: Hearings. 80th Cong., 2d sess.[January 1948]. Washington: GPO, 1948. U.S. Department of Commerce. Foreign Aid by the United States Government, 1940-51. Washington: GPO, 1952.
  • U.S. Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States, 1947. 8 vols. Washington: GPO, 1971-73.The key published American documents for any study of the Marshall Plan. See especially volumes 2 and 3 for this year.
    U.S. Economic Cooperation Administration. Country Data Book: [country]. Washington: GPO, 1950. The ECA issued one of these extremely useful books for each of the sixteen countries participating in the Marshall Plan.
  • Report to Congress. Washington: GPO, 1948-51. These thirteen quarterly reports (June 30, 1948-June 30, 1951) are valuable for their statistics and descriptions of Marshall Plan activities.


  • Acheson, Dean G. Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department. New York: Norton, 1969.
    A magisterial account of the postwar years by the former Secretary of State who was one of the principal architects of U.S. foreign policy in the postwar period.
  • Adenauer, Konrad. Memoirs, 1945- 1953. Translated by Beate Ruhm von Oppen. Chicago: Regnery, 1966.
    The foremost German statesman of the postwar period, Chancellor between 1949 and 1963. The book was generally poorly reviewed, but has some valuable material.
  • Attlee, Clement R. As It Happened. New York: Viking, 1954.
    The British Prime Minister who replaced Churchill in 1945 and was the head of government during the Marshall Plan years. A dry, but occasionally useful account.
  • Bidault, Georges. Resistance: The Political Autobiography of Georges Bidault. Translated by Marianne Sinclair. New York: Praeger, 1967.
    The French Foreign Minister during the Marshall Plan years and a subsequent Premier. A highly tendentious account of Bidault’s career, markedly anti-Gaullist.
  • Bohlen, Charles E. Witness to History, 1929-1969. New York: Norton, 1973.
    One of America’s premier diplomats who drafted much General Marshall’s Harvard Speech. In the words of a contemporary reviewer, “[his memoirs] read like silk.”
  • Bullock, Alan. Ernest Bevin, Foreign Secretary, 1945-1951. New York: Norton,1984.
    A biography of the British Foreign Minister who was the first European to take up Marshall’s call for Europeans to develop their own plan. Not for the casual reader, but a superb study by one of Britain’s great biographers.
  • Clay, Lucius D. Decision in Germany. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1950.
    The military governor of the American sector of Germany after the war; regrettably a dull book for the general reader, but necessary for a student of the period.
  • Fossedal, Gregory. Our Finest Hour, Will Clayton, The Marshall Plan, and the Triumph of Democracy. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1993.
    Clayton was an Under Secretary of State who played a key role in developing the Marshall Plan. He deserves greater recognition for his contributions to postwar U.S. foreign policy.
  • Hoffman, Paul G. Peace Can be Won. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1951.
    Hoffman was head of the Economic Cooperation Administration which administered the Marshall Plan. Not a memoir, but a plea for a level-headed foreign policy which reveals why Hoffman was a master salesman.
  • Isaacson, Walter and Thomas. The Wise Men, Six Friends and the World They Made. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986.
    A gripping account of six friends who shaped the postwar world: Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, and McCloy. Probably the best single biographical work of the period for a general reader.
  • Jones, Joseph M. The Fifteen Weeks (February 21-June 5, 1947). New York: Viking, 1955.
    A lively account by a State Department insider of how the Marshall Plan came into existence. It is warped in its assessment of George Kennan’s contribution.
  • Kennan, George F. Memoirs, 1925- 1950. Boston: Atlantic, Little Brown, 1967.
    An expert in Soviet-American relations, he was head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, 1947-49. An unconventional memoir which deals more with ideas than with personalities. A gifted urbane writer and deep thinker, Kennan’s memoir is an elegant tour de force.
  • Kindleberger, Charles P. Marshall Plan Days. Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987.
    The reflections of a noted academic economist and State Department official about the Marshall Plan and its implementation.
  • Pogue, Forrest C. George C. Marshall, Statesman, 1945-1959. New York: Viking, 1987.
    Volume 4 in the four-volume definitive biography of the man who was Secretary of State (1947-49) during the development of the Marshall Plan and for whom it was named.
  • Monnet, Jean. Memoirs. Translated by Richard Mayne. Gerden City, N.Y.:Doubleday, 1978.
    The autobiography of a founder of postwar European unification, and the instigator and first president of the Coal and Steel Community.
  • Raucher, Alan R. Paul G. Hoffman: Architect of Foreign Aid. Lexington:University Press of Kentucky, 1985.
    A brief but useful study of business and politics in the postwar world, when Hoffman was head of the Marshall Plan program (1948-50) and the UN’s economic development program (1958-71).
  • Spaak, Paul Henri. The Continuing Battle; Memoirs of a European. Boston: Little Brown, 1971.
    Spaak was the Belgium Foreign Minister who sought unsuccessfully to head the OEEC. His book reflects the concerns and aspirations of the smaller nations of Europe whose viewpoints are often lost in the battles of larger states.
  • Truman, Harry S. Memoirs: Years of Trial and Hope. New York: Doubleday,1955.
    President Truman’s account reflects the man-candid, direct, self-confident and with little perspective.
  • Vandenberg, Arthur, Jr., ed. The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952.
    Vandenberg was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who did more than any other legislator to assure passage of the Marshall Plan. Acheson considered him pompous, but James Reston considered him a complex and fascinating human being.
  • Walton, Richard J. Henry Wallace, Harry Truman and The Cold War. New York: Viking, 1976.
    Vice President Wallace opposed the Marshall Plan and virtually every U.S. postwar foreign policy initiative. This is a sympathetic account of a passionate, but misguided American.


  • Arkes, Hadley. Bureaucracy, the Marshall Plan, and the National Interest. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1972.
    Seeks to show how the foreign policy interests of the United States, the character of America’s political regime, and the makeup of the national bureaucracy came together in the Marshall Plan.
  • Brown, William Adams, Jr., and Redvers Opie. American Foreign Assistance. Washington: Bookings Institution, 1953.
    A good general survey covering the period 1940 to 1952.
  • Carew, Anthony. Labour under the Marshall Plan: The Politics of Productivity and the Marketing of Management Science. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987.
    This volume seeks a middle ground between those who viewed the Marshall Plan as pure philanthropy and those who saw it as a massive project aimed at insuring world domination by American capitalism through the export of its economic and social values. A major theme is the Marshall Plan’s role in developing a new labor-capital relationship in participating nations.
  • Donovan, Robert J. The Second Victory: The Marshall Plan and the Postwar Revival of Europe. Foreword by Clark M. Clifford. New York: Madison Books, 1987.
    A large-format book dominated by illustrations, it was issued to commemorate the Marshall Plan’s fortieth anniversary. The author manages to synthesize succinctly the scholarly materials available.
    Dulles, Allen W. The Marshall Plan. Edited and with an introduction by Michael Wala. Providence, R.I.: Berg, 1993.
    Originally written in 1948 as a part of the campaign to convince skeptical or hostile Americans that the European Recovery was a necessary and proper commitment of U.S. resources and prestige to foreign–and in some cases recent enemy–nations.
  • Esposito, Chiarella. America’s Feeble Weapon: Funding the Marshall Plan in France and Italy, 1948- 1950. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.
    An in-depth study of the Marshall Plan’s implementation in the second and third largest beneficiary countries. The author concludes that America achieved little through the Marshall Plan that the French and Italians did not already wish to achieve themselves, although their leaders were happy to use Marshall Plan funds to achieve these goals. Both governments shared U.S. strategic-ideological goals, and American corporatist ideology was not decisive in reshaping policy.
  • Gimbel, John. The Origins of the Marshall Plan. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1976.
    The author believes that the Marshall Plan flowed from U.S. efforts to circumvent French, not Soviet, obstruction of Germany’s economic revival. He is especially good at presenting the contemporary bureaucratic antagonisms inside the Truman administration.
  • Hoffmann, Stanley, and Charles Maier, The Marshall Plan; A Retrospective. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1984.
    Contains papers and remarks by scholars and former policy makers at a 1982 conference commemorating the thirty-fifty anniversary of Marshall’s Harvard address in 1947.
  • Hogan, Michael J. The Marshall Plan: America, Britain, and the Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1947- 1952. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
    Perhaps the best single book on the Marshall Plan, its historical antecedents, and its role in the early Cold War. The book’s themes include European resistance to Americanization and U.S. acceptance of British views of their world responsibilities.
  • Maier, Charles S., ed. The Marshall Plan and Germany: West German Development within the Framework of the European Recovery Program. With the assistance of Günter Bischof. New York: Berg, 1991.
    A collection of eleven essays by some of the best-known scholars of the Marshall Plan. Some authors see the plan as crucial to West European recovery in the face of Soviet hostility and others cast doubts on the plan’s necessity.
  • Mee, Charles L., Jr. The Marshall Plan: The Launching of the Pax Americana.New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
    A book for the general reader, it is fulsome in its praise of the Marshall Plan. It is also good on the personalities of the European and American actors.
  • Milward, Alan S. The Reconstruction of Western Europe, 1945-51.Berkeley and Los Angeles; University of California Press, 1984.
    The author, a British economic historian, is one of the chief critics of the idea that the Marshall Plan was necessary or essential to European recovery.
  • Organisation for European Cooperation and Development. The European Reconstruction, 1948-1961: Bibliography on the Marshall Plan and the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC). Paris: OECD, 1996. In French and English.
  • Pelling, Henry. Britain and the Marshall Plan. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
    The British author finds that although lip-service was paid to American generosity and British gratitude at the time, there was serious friction between the U.S. and U.K. and also within the respective governments about the Marshall Plan’s methods and goals. The book is a case-study of the problems of foreign aid, the American political system, and Anglo-American relations.
  • Pisani, Sallie. The CIA and the Marshall Plan. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1991.
    A pioneering study of the Office of Policy Coordination, a covert organization run by a group of “determined interventionists” who sought to counter what they saw as Soviet-inspired subversion of the Marshall Plan.
  • Price, Harry Bayard. The Marshall Plan and Its Meaning. Ithaca, N.Y.:Cornell University Press, 1955.
    The first substantial evaluation of the Marshall Plan and its impact. The book was a part of the debate over the efficacy and level of U.S. foreign aid in the 1950s.
  • Wexler, Imanuel. The Marshall Plan Revisited: The European Recovery Program in Economic Perspective. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.
    A useful book, heavy on economic statistics. The author concludes that the Marshall Plan was modestly successful when measured against its own ambitious goals, but it helped to lay a firm foundation for the boom of the 1950s and 1960s and was thus “one of the great economic success stories of modern time.”
  • Whelan, Bernadette. Ireland and the Marshall Plan, 1947-57.Dublin, Ireland: Four Courts Press, 2000.

Additional Resources