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This Month in Business History

Bretton Woods Conference & the Birth of the IMF and World Bank

Acme Newspictures, Inc. photograph. Participants of the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference meet at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, N.H.. 1927. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The Bretton Woods Conference, officially known as the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, a meeting of delegates from 44 nations that met from July 1 to 22, 1944 in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The purpose of the conference was to agree upon a series of new rules for the monetary system after World War II.

The genesis of the 1944 conference dates back to the Atlantic Conference in 1941, but by early 1942 more detailed plans were being developed with the ideas from Harry Dexter White a Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and John Maynard Keynes an advisor to the British Treasury being the two major competing schools of thought. In mid June 1944 a preliminary conference was held in Atlantic City and on July 1, 1944 the Bretton Woods Conference convened.1

The conference resulted in the creation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction & Development (IBRD) thought that quickly became become the World Bank. It was intended that the IMF was to maintain a system of fixed exchange rates centered on the U.S. dollar and gold, while the IBRD was responsible for providing financial assistance for the reconstruction of war-ravaged nations and the economic development of less developed countries.2 The IMF and IBRD formally came into existence on 27 December 1945. The World Bank opened it doors on June 25, 19463 and made its first loan in 1947.4

While the Bretton Woods system was in place until President Richard Nixon ended the dollar’s convertibility to gold in 1971, both the IMF and World Bank are still operating today.

Today, the IMF is an organization of 190 member countries with proximately 2,700 staff from 150 countries. The World Bank includes 189 member countries with staff from more than 170 countries and offices in over 130 locations and is a family of five organizations including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) International Development Association (IDA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

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Featured Recording

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), delivered the Kissinger Lecture in Foreign Policy and International Relations. Lagarde spoke about the changing landscape of the international system and the need for continued creativity in U.S. leadership in order to tackle the world's shared economic challenges. Afterwards, Lagarde was interviewed by Margaret Brennan of Face the Nation on CBS.

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