United States Information Agency

Voice of America


1917-1919 - During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson creates the Committee on Public Information (CPI), also known as the Creel Committee, the first large-scale U.S. government entry into information activities abroad.

March 30, 1935 - The first "Radio Bulletin," precursor of today's Washington File, is sent by the Department of State via Morse Code to key diplomatic missions abroad.

1937-1939 - New York Congressman Emmanuel Celler and other prominent figures introduce bills in Congress to create a government radio station that can respond to German propaganda. Their efforts are unsuccessful. [Nazi Germany began broadcasting hostile propaganda into Austria and Latin America in 1933.]

1938 - A Convention is signed in Buenos Aires that establishes cultural and educational exchange programs, primarily with Latin America and China, under the auspices of the Department of State with the Interdepartmental Committee for Scientific and Cultural Cooperation (SCC) and the Division of Cultural Cooperation.

1939-1945 - After the start of World War II in Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt establishes several agencies to counter the effects of Axis propaganda. One of the first is the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA), formed in 1940 to counteract German and Italian propaganda in Latin America. Nelson Rockefeller is CIAA's coordinator of commercial and cultural affairs between the U.S. and American Republics (exchange of persons, libraries, and binational centers). Other early information agencies are the Office of Facts and Figures, the Office of Government Reports, and the Coordinator of Information (COI).

1941 - Several low-powered, commercially owned and operated transmitters are leased to the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs to broadcast to Latin America.

1941 - President Roosevelt establishes the U.S. Foreign Information Service (FIS) and appoints playwright and Presidential speech writer Robert Sherwood its first director. Sherwood and staff set up headquarters in New York City and begin broadcasting to Europe via privately owned American shortwave stations.

1941 - The International Visitor (IV) Program is established at the Department of State to bring overseas leaders to the United States to meet directly with their U.S. counterparts. [Since its inception, over 4,500 IVs have visited the U.S. each year, including more than 185 who went on to become chiefs of state and heads of government.]

December 1941 - The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war against the United States accelerate the growth of U.S. international broadcasting. Sherwood hires John Houseman, the theatrical producer, actor and director, to take charge of the FIS radio operations in New York City. The first FIS program to Asia is broadcast from a studio in San Francisco.

February 24, 1942 - The Voice of America's inaugural broadcast is beamed to Europe. Announcer William Harlan Hale opens the German-language program with the words, "The Voice of America speaks." The words take hold and, within a few months, become the signature introduction on all Foreign Information Service broadcasts. Broadcasts begin in French, Italian and English as well. John Houseman, actor and theater director, was the first director of the Voice of America.

June 1942 - President Roosevelt establishes the Office of War Information; its overseas component becomes the U.S. Information Service (USIS) in many countries. The Voice of America (VOA) comes under the Office of War Information and broadcasts in 27 languages.

1945 - As World War II draws to a close, many VOA language services are reduced or eliminated. VOA survives, however, when a Department of State-appointed committee of private citizens advises the U.S. government that it cannot be "indifferent to the ways in which our society is portrayed to other countries." On December 31, 1945, VOA and CIAA broadcast services to Latin America are transferred to the Department of State, and Congress appropriates funds for their continued operation in 1946 and 1947.

1946 - When World War II ends, the Department of State absorbs the information and cultural programs of the U.S. government into its newly created Office of International Cultural Affairs and the International Press and Publication Division, under the authority of an Assistant Secretary of State.

August 1, 1946 - President Harry Truman signs the Fulbright Act (Public Law 584; 79th Congress) that creates a peacetime international educational exchange program, which becomes the U.S. government's flagship exchange program. [The Fulbright Program currently operates in 140 countries and has sponsored more than 210,000 U.S. and foreign grantees.]

January 1948 - The U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act (Public Law 402; 80th Congress), popularly known as the Smith-Mundt Act, establishes the programming mandate that still serves as the charter for U.S. overseas information and cultural programs and brings VOA under the Office of International Information at the Department of State.

1949-1952 - Massive reorientation and reeducation programs are conducted by the Department of State in Germany and Japan, the first such foreign cultural, information and education endeavor by the U.S. government.

September 1950 - The first of three Regional Service Center (RSC) printing facilities is established in the Philippines under the International Information Administration. (Originally, RSC Manila printed media only for East Asian and South Asian posts. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it produced millions of air drop leaflets and booklets for the Defense Department in support of the Vietnam War effort. RSC Manila has served for some time as the Agency's single worldwide printing facility.)

1950 - With the outbreak of the Korean War, VOA adds new language services and develops plans to construct transmitter complexes on both the east and west coasts of the United States.

1951 - Legislation is introduced in Congress to establish a television service. This legislation is supported by Senator Karl Mundt.

1952 - To coordinate Western research on the Communist nations of the world, especially China and the Soviet Union, the journal Problems of Communism is launched. This immensely successful journal lasts until the breakup of the Soviet Union. [The last issue is dated May-June 1992.]

1952-1954 - Senator Joseph McCarthy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and its investigative arm, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, makes claims of Communist infiltration of U.S. overseas information programs.

USIA Created

August 3, 1953 - President Eisenhower creates the United States Information Agency (USIA) under Reorganization Plan No. 8, as authorized by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948. The new agency encompasses all the information programs, including VOA (its largest element), that were previously in the Department of State, except for the educational exchange programs, which remain at State. Theodore Streibert is appointed the first USIA Director (1953-1956); he reports to the President through the National Security Council and receives complete, day-to-day guidance on U.S. foreign policy from the Secretary of State. On October 22, President Eisenhower issues a directive defining the USIA mission.

October 1953 - Twenty-eight leaders in the fields of communication, public opinion, and international affairs form a voluntary, non-partisan group called the National Committee for an Adequate U.S. Overseas Information Program. Headed by public relations pioneer Edward L. Bernays, the members support an information program that is "a powerful offensive and defensive weapon for our nation and vital to our national strength."

1954 - The Voice of America headquarters is relocated from New York City to Washington, DC.

1955 - The first original Agency television programs are shown overseas to critical acclaim. TV becomes an element of VOA.

1961 - Famous radio and TV broadcaster Edward R. Murrow becomes USIA director. He serves from 1961 to 1963 and inspires a generation of USIA employees with his integrity, honesty and skills as a communicator.

September 1961 - The Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act (Fulbright-Hays Act; Public Law 87-256) consolidates various U.S. international educational and cultural exchanges, including the translation of books and periodicals and U.S. representation in international fairs and expositions, and establishes government operation of cultural and education centers abroad. By the end of the year, a Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is established in the Department of State under an Assistant Secretary.

October 18, 1961 - The New York Foreign Press Center, established under plans developed by the White House, the Department of State and the Agency, opens its doors to serve foreign correspon€dents. Addressing a letter to the foreign correspondents, President Kennedy says that the Center has been established "to make it as easy as possible for you to cover this large, complex, and manysided country."

November 5, 1961 - VOA amassed its 52 transmitters to tell listeners behind the Iron Curtain about the resumption of Communist nuclear testing in the atmosphere.

1962 - Walter de Hoog produced The Wall for the USIA, about the first year of the Berlin Wall. and the USIS began expanding its presence in Africa and other developing countries.

1963 - President Kennedy issued a mission statement for USIA that reflected his vision of the Agency's role in the "New Frontier." James Blue filmed The March for the USIA about the Aug. 28 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King. The official headquarters of USIA was at 1776 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

March 1963 - The beginning of English Teaching Forum, USIA's journal for English teachers around the world. (This very popular journal has Congressional authorization to be distributed in the U.S. as one of two exceptions to the domestic dissemination mandate of the Smith-Mundt Act; the other publication is Problems of Communism.)

1963 - Dec. 22 Murrow resigned from the USIA, replaced by Carl Rowan, the highest-ranking African American in the Executive Branch until 1964, then by Leonard Marks, LBJ's family lawyer.

December 1964 - The Agency's first feature-length documentary Years of Lightning, Day of Drums is distributed in 117 countries. Public Law 89-274 allowed the film to be shown in the United States. The film won an Academy Award as Best Documentary.

July 1, 1965 - The Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO), which replaced USIS in Vietnam from 1965-1972, was born of a simple concept. The integrated civilian/military effort, on which so much stress was placed in counterinsurgency, required an equally integrated communications effort by a single unified agency. The idea was picked up and carried through the NSC by then USIA Director Carl Rowan and came into being, formally, as JUSPAO on July 1, 1965, that brought together all communications activities in the country into one agency under one direction. JUSPAO was unprecedented in its integration of civilian and military personnel. At its peak, the agency and the related press office were authorized some 160 American officers drawn from all major agencies in Vietnam - State, USAID, USIS and MACV, plus some 600 Vietnamese positions and various consultants and advisers.

RG306: "The Office of the Coordinator of Information established as an independent agency by Presidential order, July 11, 1941, to collect and analyze information bearing upon national security. Foreign Information Service established within OCOI to oversee shortwave propaganda broadcasts (Voice of America, VOA), which commenced February 24, 1942. FIS transferred to newly established Office of War Information, Office for Emergency Management, by EO 9182, June 13, 1942. OWI abolished by EO 9608, August 31, 1945, with foreign information dissemination functions to Department of State, where they were initially vested in Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs. Separate Office of International Information and Office of Educational Exchange established pursuant to U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (62 Stat. 9), January 27, 1948; assigned to International Information and Cultural Exchange Programs, under Office of Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, 1950; and consolidated as International Information Administration, 1952. Abolished, with functions to newly established USIA, 1953. The USIA was established as an independent agency by Reorganization Plan No. 8 of 1953, effective August 1, 1953, to centralize foreign information dissemination programs. Abolished by EO 12048, March 27, 1978, with functions to newly established International Communication Agency, redesignated again as USIA as an independent agency by the USIA Authorization Act (96 Stat. 291), August 24, 1982." (text from RG306)


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