Although World War II ended 2 years earlier in 1945, the countries of Europe had made little progress in rebuilding.
After more than 6 years of war, cities and towns across Europe had been completely destroyed, which created tremendous hardships for the people who lived there.
The United States recognized the importance of European recovery and began to consider what it could do to help.
The widespread destruction left millions of Europeans homeless. Many became refugees, leaving their homes in hopes of finding more suitable living conditions elsewhere. Living without adequate shelter was especially difficult during the cold winter months.
“Millions of people in the cities are slowly starving.”
- Memo from William Clayton to Dean Acheson, May 27, 1947.
Unfavorable weather conditions and the use of pre-industrial farming methods resulted in substantial food shortages.
Rationing occurred throughout Europe. In some countries people received less than 1000 calories of food per day.
Secretary of State George C. Marshall was aware of the problems in Europe. He established a Policy Planning Staff for the State Department with George Kennan as director. One of the Policy Planning Staff's first tasks was to develop a plan for the recovery of Europe.
After reading the recommendations of the Policy Planning Staff and Will Clayton's memo to Dean Acheson, Secretary Marshall concluded that the United States needed to act quickly for a program to rebuild Europe to have any chance of being successful.
As the situation in Europe worsened Secretary Marshall, who had an outstanding invitation from Harvard University to receive an honorary degree, decided that the commencement on June 5, 1947, would be the venue for his speech.
“I will not be able to make a formal address, but would be pleased to make a few remarks in appreciation of the honor and perhaps a little more.”
- Letter from Secretary of State George C. Marshall to Harvard University President Dr. James B. Conant, May 28, 1947
At 2:50 PM Secretary of State George C. Marshall began delivering his remarks as part of a meeting of the Harvard University Alumni Association that took place in Harvard Yard.
An estimated 12,000-15,000 people attended the meeting to hear Secretary Marshall speak. No one had any idea that Secretary Marshall would be making a historically significant statement. They came to the meeting to “see the man."
“The modern system of the division of labor upon which the exchange of products is based is in danger of breaking down.”
“Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.”
Although commonly known as the “Marshall Plan Speech” Secretary of State George C. Marshall considered what he said to be “remarks.”
The reading copy of Secretary Marshall's remarks is 7 pages in length and it took him 11 minutes to deliver.
The remarks that Secretary Marshall made were publicized as “just another commencement address of no import.” This was done intentionally to prevent opponents from responding before Secretary Marshall delivered his remarks.
Secretary Marshall's remarks do not include a formal plan for the recovery of Europe. Instead, it contains a proposal for cooperation among European countries.
Within six weeks of Secretary of State George C. Marshall's remarks at Harvard University, leaders from all of the countries of Europe met in Paris to develop a plan for recovery and determine the resources needed for the recovery to be successful.
Initially, many of the resources requested by the European countries were basic necessities such as coal, wheat, and clothing.
Once the basic needs of Europeans had been met, funding was used for rebuilding and improving infrastructure.
Money was also used to purchase new machinery and invest in training programs in hopes that countries would quickly return to and then exceed their previous levels of productivity.
The European Recovery Program, the official name of the Marshall Plan, lasted from April 3, 1948, to June 30, 1952.
During this period the United States provided $13.2 billion (approximately $125 billion in 2013 dollars) to 17 European nations.
The Marshall Plan helped countries rebuild physically as well as economically, and encouraged increased cooperation among European countries which continues today.
In the fall of 1950 the Intra-European Cooperation for a Better Standard of Living Poster Contest was held throughout Europe. Artists were encouraged to submit posters that represented the theme of cooperation and economic recovery. Over 10,000 entries were submitted.
A panel of 12 graphic artists, each representing a different Marshall Plan country, served as judges. They selected 25 finalists. First place and an award of $1500 went to Reyn Dirksen for his poster entitled, “All Our Colours to the Mast.”
Curator — Paul Barron, Director of Library and Archives
Curator — Jeffrey Kozak, Archivist and Assistant Librarian