1950s

In 1953, to celebrate President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first birthday in the White House, a group of businessmen

founded an international leader exchange program to honor his devotion to world peace.

Led by Thomas B. McCabe, then-CEO of Scott Paper and former Federal Reserve Chairman, they created a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization, governed by a board of trustees whose members included presidents of IBM, B.F. Goodrich, Chairman of G.E., a governor, U.S. Cabinet Secretary, U.S. delegate to the U.N. and 7 university or college presidents. Ten years later, the president described the program as “possibly the most splendid birthday present I have ever received.”
  • Phila Inquirer Headline
1970S
BY 1975 THERE HAD BEEN 549 FELLOWS FROM 86 NATIONS.
In 1976, as the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial, 101 Fellows from 56 countries convened in San Francisco for EF’s First World Forum. Impressed by the loyalty and engagement of the previous Fellows, EF trustees named five international Fellows to the board, and since that time, there have always been trustees who are also Fellows. In 1977, in a move that greatly strengthened the program’s leadership, EF appointed President Gerald R. Ford as its president. He would later serve, from 1980 to 1986, as chairman of the board.
  • 1976 World Forum - San Francisco
1990S
THE CAPITAL FUND DRIVE SURPASSED ITS GOAL AND EF CELEBRATED THE CENTENNIAL OF PRESIDENT EISENHOWER’S BIRTH AT ITS SECOND WORLD FORUM IN PHILADELPHIA, where Over 200 Fellows from 63 countries enjoyed four days of reminiscing and substantive discussions. 
This enthusiastic response inspired 11 more countries (from Ireland to Indonesia) to host EF gatherings over the next 18 years. In 1990, legislation sponsored by Senator Bob Dole and Representative Pat Roberts established a permanent endowment to honor President Eisenhower, under which EF would receive the yearly interest earned on a $7.5 million federal trust fund.

A Single Nation Program for Poland in 1991 and a Single Nation Program for then-Czechoslovakia the next year, along with the addition of Bulgaria and Romania to the list of active countries, quickly established EF’s strong presence in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe. In 1994, after South Africa elected its first truly democratic government, EF ran a South Africa Single Nation Program for nine Fellows drawn from that country’s major ethnic groups and geographical areas. Later in the decade, the personal efforts of President George H. W. Bush, then EF chairman, enabled two programs for China, reflecting that country’s size and growing influence. As the century ended, EF was planning programs for Russia and India. 

One innovation brought sharper focus to the USA Program. In 1999, a distinguished committee in North Carolina’s Research Triangle region launched EF’s first Regional Initiative, whereby Fellows from the region would travel abroad and later, after their fellowships, host international Fellows visiting the area.
  • Kissinger with 1999 Group
1960s
Each year's program now included at least two seminars where fellows met and shared experiences. EF continued to measure the impact of its first decade on eisenhower fellows around the world.

Yearly newsletters and three international conferences with previous fellows (Geneva, Istanbul, Buenos Aires) strengthened the bonds among old friends and created new linkages. A second Ford Foundation grant in 1967 encouraged EF to experiment with larger programs, increasing the number of Fellows per year to forty-three. EF also began receiving contracts from other exchange organizations to administer their programs. 

Much of the tumult of the late 1960s unfolded before the Fellows' eyes as they traveled throughout the U.S.
  • JFK With Fellows & Spouses
1980s
IN 1984, THE U.S. CONGRESS AUTHORIZED A $7.5 MILLION GRANT TO COVER FELLOWSHIP EXPENSES FOR SEVEN YEARS.
The trustees launched a five-year capital fund drive, the first in EF history, and they directed the staff to expand the program’s size and scope. The first initiative was to add a second program each year to complement EF’s signature Multi-Nation Program, which granted only one fellowship to each participating country. In the fall of 1986, six Fellows from the Philippines inaugurated the first Single Nation Program. In 1989 the USA Fellow Program resumed after a 26-year hiatus, leading EF to commit to three programs and 50 Fellows a year.
  • Gerald Ford with Fellows
2000s
With the chairmanships of Henry Kissinger and later General Colin Powell, EF’s sixth decade brought significant developments, including growing the FELLOW network & strengthening international & usa programs. 
The success of the North Carolina initiative prompted EF to organize further initiatives in Pennsylvania, New England and St. Louis. USA Fellows can choose their fellowship destination from a list of almost 40 countries on six continents. While the Multi-Nation Program continued, regional programs (four for Asia, and one each for Latin America and the Middle East) also reflected an emphasis on international linkages, as did two Common Interest Programs: “Challenges in Urbanization” (2007) and ”Fueling Growth” (2009). 

Since the late 1990s, EF has given high priority to the support of an active network of Fellows. An online Directory of Fellows and news on the EF website augmented the usefulness of the network, and overseas conferences in Singapore, Istanbul, Dublin, Malaysia, Brazil, and France reinforced a sense of common identity and purpose. Fellow Associations have been established in 40 countries to foster a sense of EF pride and generate substantive activities. In 2008, the Eisenhower Day of Fellowship was initiated to renew the fellowship experience, increase the impact and visibility of Eisenhower Fellowships, and commemorate the founding of the organization. 

In the fall of 2010, EF sponsored its first Women’s Leadership Program, bringing together 19 distinguished women from around the world, and five from the U.S., commencing with the Leadership & Innovation Conference in Philadelphia. Other dynamic gatherings of Eisenhower Fellows and guests included "New Asia Rising" in Bali, Indonesia, "Rapid Change Rapid Challenge" in North Carolina, USA, and "South Asia on the Move" in Colombo, Sri Lanka, as well as two UnConferences (the first in Boston, second in St. Louis).

In 2012, the USA Program brought back national recruitment efforts. In September 2014, EF hosted its first Innovation Program.
  • Women's Leadership Program