The Record - September 1998

Publicizing the Marshall Plan: Records of the U.S. Special Representative in Europe, 1948-50

By Kenneth Heger

The European Recovery Plan (ERP), more commonly known as the Marshall Plan, was one of the United States' first significant postwar foreign policy initiatives. Created to rebuild European prosperity as a means of bolstering the democracies against the threat of communist dictatorship, it soon became an integral part of American diplomacy and a cornerstone of American relations with western Europe. Realizing the importance of this program, the Federal government in 1948 created an independent agency, the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), to oversee the Marshall Plan's economic and technical aid.

Labor Information Service of the ECA Marshall Plan

(NARA, RG 469, Records of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Agencies)

As it began to take shape, the ECA quickly realized that it needed to win the active support and participation of Europeans if the program were to succeed. In order to achieve this goal, the ECA established its own information program. Designed to foster and gauge support for its aid programs, the ECA's information officers were to devise adroit, hard-hitting programs directed at all segments of society in the participating nations. When the Mutual Security Agency (MSA) absorbed the ECA in 1951, the information programs remained and continued to function as before.

Records documenting these programs are contained in National Archives Record Group 469, Records of U.S. Foreign Assistance Agencies, among the Headquarters Records, the Records of the U.S. Special Representative in Europe, and the country mission records of the United States Overseas Missions.

The U.S. Special Representative in Europe

The Economic Cooperation Act of 1948 included provision for the creation of an office of the United States Special Representative in Europe (SRE), holding the rank of ambassador and responsible to the president. Representing the entire United States government, the SRE served as the senior American civilian representative in Europe for the North Atlantic Treaty and the ECA.

The SRE's Division of Information (SREDI) was responsible for developing and carrying out informational programs in order to apprise Europeans of American efforts in promoting economic recovery and to garner European support for American aid programs, especially the Marshall Plan. The Special Media Staff dealt with publishers and representatives of European magazines, radio, and motion pictures in order to encourage favorable treatment of ECA and MSA activities, as well as developing plans for special informational projects such as fair exhibits, pamphlets, and posters, as well as preparing these special materials.

The News and Writing Staff collected current news material pertaining to American aid activities and distributed them to appropriate American officials, prepared press releases and arranged press conferences, as well as preparing special reports as required by legislation.

The Labor Information Staff prepared and distributed to labor unions in ECA countries factual information about American aid programs, established contact with leaders of non-communist unions as a means of increasing support for American aid programs, and reported to ECA and MSA missions on labor meetings throughout Europe.

By early 1949, American planners spoke openly of a direct relationship between the success of the Marshall Plan and European labor's support for it, and the role of the labor advisors took on added significance. The Labor Information Division (SRELID) had its own organizational structure, with a Director, an Economic Advisor, and a Planning and Policy Section, and became the principle American organization dealing with European labor and Marshall Plan issues. SRELID representatives in country missions contacted labor leaders of the country to which they were assigned and channeled information concerning the Marshall Plan to them.

Country mission representatives also kept foreign workers posted on American workers' views of the Marshall Plan and American workers informed on the effectiveness of the Marshall Plan and the degree to which workers abroad supported it.

Records of the Division of Information

The SREDI's records document a wide range of ECA and MSA informational activities, which resulted in a wide range of products. In Germany country missions used the press, radio, motion pictures and exhibition centers to inform the German public about the ERP and other American aid programs. In 1948, for example, the SRE produced a documentary film "Mr. Marshall and Me," to be shown throughout the nation, in which a Ruhr coal miner described how he was recruited for his job and how he came to understand his role in the ERP. In the same year, the SRE produced numerous pamphlets for distribution in Germany, including "With United Forces—Europe Plans, America Helps."

German ECA information officers sold approximately 220,000 copies of this pamphlet.1 In 1949 the SRE prepared new films for use in Germany with titles such as "The Marshall Plan and the Family" and "Kraftwerk West," the latter about the new Berlin power plant being built with Marshall Plan counterpart funds.2

The information program in Greece started slower than in Germany. In early 1949, Downsley Clark, Information Director in Greece, had already undertaken to produce a series of posters and planned on issuing several each month. Although there were no films readily available pertaining to ERP activities in Greece, Clark proposed to add forwards discussing the Marshall Plan in Greece to existing United States Information Service films during the coming year.3 The film situation the next year was brighter. In August, the Athens office reported that it was producing a film touting the value of a new drydock provided by Marshall Plan counterpart funds. The film would stress the value of the new drydock to the Greek shipping industry and be certain to point out that within its first two years the new facility would earn and save more in foreign exchange than it had cost.4

In, Italy ECA information personnel developed numerous unique and eye-catching products designed to publicize American aid to that country. One such project was a series of paperback books with blank pages for use by students. The front of each book carried a brightly-colored illustration of an aspect of the Italian economy, such as the railroad, industry, agriculture, and the merchant marine. On the back of the booklet, there was a brief paragraph explaining how the Marshall Plan had helped that particular aspect of the Italian economy recover after the war.5

The SREDI's records consist of telegrams, memoranda, letters, press releases, and periodic reports. Containing approximately 19,000 pages of material, the General Subject Files cover the years 1948-50. They are divided into two chronological sections, 1948-49 and 1949-50, and are arranged alphabetically by subject in both sections. The Country Subject Files contain approximately 12,000 pages. They contain a great deal of statistical information about the ERP that SREDI personnel used to extol the Marshall Plan's success. "Austria and the ERP," a 1950 pamphlet, for example contains chapters on Austria's monetary and financial situation; production and productivity; employment; prices, wages and the standard of living; and foreign trade. The pamphlet is replete with charts and tables. 6

Records of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Agencies

(NARA, RG 469, Records of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Agencies)

Records of the Division of Labor Information

The SRELID was especially active in Austria and France. The Austrian mission produced posters, pamphlets and magazines devoted to extolling the value of the Marshall Plan to workers in the republic. It published a newsletter designed to circulate short, interesting articles to Austrian workers. The January 26, 1951, issue, for example consisted of ten articles, including "ECA in Different Spheres— Dublin, Paris, Athens, Ankara," "Women's Work in the United States," and "Free World—Free Worker."7 The mission also participated in trade fairs, such as the one held in Vienna in autumn 1951, where the mission had a large exhibit consisting of photographs, charts, and posters illustrating how the ERP had helped Austrian productivity and prosperity.8

In France, SRELID personnel hosted radio programs, sponsored lectures, and held press conferences to publicize the goals and successes of the Marshall Plan. The French mission created posters to increase exposure to the Plan. In 1950 for example, it posted 2,350 copies of "The Marshall Plan Fights Unemployment" throughout France. As was the case in Austria, the SRELID produced a bi-weekly news bulletin targeting the working class, the Bulletin Syndical, which ran short articles on workers, working conditions, and productivity. While most of the articles focused on France, there were always articles on conditions in other countries so as to provide French workers with news about labor issues abroad. The publication was a great success. It's first issue appeared in December 1949 with a circulation of approximately 3,000, with an additional 2,000 copies printed for distribution. By the end of 1950, circulation had increased to around 60,000.9

The SRELID records contain approximately 92,000 pages of documents covering the years 1949-51.

The General Subject Files of the Office of the Director and the General Subject Files of the Office of the Economic Advisor contain a substantial amount of information on the SRELID's activities promoting the Marshall Plan in general and on statistical data pertaining to productivity, employment, and other labor issues. Researchers should take particular note of the numerous files on individual American and foreign labor unions. Each series consists of approximately 15,000 pages of material.

In 1953 the U.S. government created the United States Information Agency as the primary organization to oversee American international cultural and information programs. The new agency soon assumed most of the cultural and informational duties of other agencies, including those of the MSA. The records described above illustrate the wealth and organization of the material documenting the ECA and MSA information programs, an important aspect of American cultural and informational foreign policy during the early years of the Cold War.


   1. 22 December 1948 Ltr. Walter T. Ridder to Alfred Friendly, Encloses report on informational activities in German mission, NA RG 469/SRE/DI/Country Subject Files/"Germany Bizone." Back to text.

  2. 30 September 1949 Memo from Information Officer ECA Special Mission to Chief, ID "Monthly Report of Mission Activities—September 1949," NA RG 469/SRE/DI/Country Subject Files/"Germany Bizone Reports & Stats—Country Mission." Back to text.

   3. 8 March 1949 Clark to Iverson "Program of Activities and Objectives," NA RG 469/SRE/DI/Country Subject Files/"Greece III." Back to text.

   4. 12 August 1950 Tel 1379 Athens to Office SRE, Paris, NA RG 469/SRE/DI/Country Subject Files/"Greece 1950 Films." Back to text.

   5. For examples of these booklets see NA RG 469/SRE/DI/Country Subject Files/"Italy -- Publicity and Information, 1948-49." Back to text.

   6. See NA RG 469/SRE/DI/Country Subject Files/"Austria 1950 I." Back to text.

   7. For examples of this newsletter see NA RG 469/SRE/LID/OD/Country Subject Files/"Austria-Activities Report;" and NA RG 469/SRE/LID/PPS/Country Subject Files/"Austria-Press." Back to text.

   8. For correspondence and photographs of the exhibit see NA RG 469/SRE/LID/OD/Country Subject Files/"Austria Productivity." Back to text.

   9. 18 December 1950 French Desk to Harry Martin, et al. "Activities Report. December 3-16," NA RG 469/SRE/LID/PPS/Country Subject Files/"France—Activities Report;" 14 December 1950 Harry Martin to Walter P. Reuther with enclosures, NA RG 469/SRE/LID/PPS/Country Subject Files/"France-Bulletin Syndical." Back to text.