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Timeline of Trade Policy: The Second Thirty Years War, 1914-1945
The period that fell between the decline of British hegemony and the rise of U.S. hegemony saw war, protectionism, and the emergence of a wholly new world order.



Major world events are shown in red.

Developments in trade policy and allied fields are shown in black.

Important events in U.S. law and policy are shown in

Landmarks in economic, legal, and political theory, as well as technological developments, are shown in green.









The First World War breaks out, and will last until 1918.

Opening of the Panama Canal.


The U.S. Tariff Commission is established.


The United States joins the Allies in the First World War.

The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.

The U.S. Congress enacts the Trading with the Enemy Act.


President Woodrow Wilson issues his Fourteen Points, including “The removal, so far as possible of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance” (Point Number III).


Ireland becomes independent.

Comintern founded by the Soviet Union.

Conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles.

John Maynard Keynes publishes The Economic Consequences of the Peace.


The Constitution of the International Labour Organization enters into force.

The U.S. Senate fails to approve the Treaty of Versailles.

Beginnings of radio as a medium of mass communication.


Abolition of the sultanate in Turkey.


Benito Mussolini takes power in Italy.

The U.S. Congress enacts the protectionist Fordney-McCumber Tariff Act.


Germany imposes a quota on imported motion pictures.

The United States formally adopts the unconditional most-favored-nation principle as a cornerstone of trade policy, replacing the conditional MFN policy practiced since independence.

John Logie Baird invents television.


First use of sound in motion pictures.

Robert Goddard launches the first liquid-fuel rocket.


Charles Lindbergh makes the first solo flight across the Atlantic.


First Five-Year Plan in the Soviet Union.

France imposes a quota on imported motion pictures.

China negotiates treaties with twelve powers providing for its tariff autonomy.

The U.S. Congress enacts the Merchant Marine Act.


Wall Street crashes triggers the Great Depression.


The Hague Conference establishes the Bank for International Settlements.

The U.S. Congress enacts the Tariff Act of 1930 (the Hawley-Smoot Act), raising tariff rates on most goods and overhauling many other trade laws.

Vannevar Bush and associates produce the first modern analog computer.


The Second World War begins with the Mukden Incident between China and Japan.

Great Britain abandons the gold standard.


Great Britain increases tariffs by 10 percent.

The Imperial Economic Congress establishes the Ottawa system of preferences within the British Empire.

The International Labour Organization Convention Number 29: Forced Labour enters into force.


Adolph Hitler takes power in Germany.

Failure of the London Economic Conference to establish cooperation among the major economic powers.

The U.S. Congress enacts the Agricultural Adjustment Act, authorizing the president to impose quantitative restrictions on imports of agricultural products affecting government price-support programs.

The U.S. Congress enacts the Buy American Act, mandating preferences for domestic products or products of certain trading partners in U.S. federal procurements.

Bertil Ohlin publishes Interregional and International Trade.


The U.S. Congress enacts the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, granting authority for the negotiation and approval of tariff-cutting agreements.

The Roosevelt administration creates the Export-Import Bank to aid in financing and facilitating U.S. exports.


E.E. Schattschneider publishes Politics, Pressure, and the Tariff: A Study of Free Private Enterprise in Pressure Politics, as Shown in the 1929-1930 Revision of the Tariff.


Outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, which will last until 1939.

John Maynard Keynes publishes his General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.


The U.S. Congress enacts the Neutrality Act, placing an embargo on arms exports to belligerents.

The U.S. Congress approves a three-year extension of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act.


Germany invades and annexes Austria.

Mexico expropriates foreign oil companies.

The U.S. Congress enacts the Foreign Agents Registration Act.


Hitler-Stalin Pact reached.

Germany and the Soviet Union each invade Poland; Great Britain and France declare war on Germany.

The United States declares its neutrality.

The U.S. Congress amends the Neutrality Act, replacing the arms embargo with a cash-and-carry policy.

Igor Sikorski flies the first helicopter.


The U.S. Congress approves a three-year extension of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act.


The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brings the United States into the Second World War.

Germany invades the Soviet Union.

In the Atlantic Charter the United States and Great Britain pledge, among other things, that “they will endeavor … to further the enjoyment by all States … on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity.”

The U.S. Congress enacts the Lend-Lease Act.


In the Master Lend-Lease Agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom, the two allies call (among other things) for "the elimination of all forms of discriminatory treatment in international commerce, and ... the reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers."

Enrico Fermi achieves the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.


The U.S. Congress approves a two-year extension of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act.


The Dumbarton Oaks Conference establishes the foundations of what will become the United Nations.

The Bretton Woods Conference is held in New Hampshire, leading to the creation of the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank).

The Constitution of the Food and Agriculture Organization is negotiated.

Harvard IBM Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator is the first general-purpose digital computer.


Berlin is captured by the Red Army; the United States uses atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Second World War ends.

The Charter of the United Nations is concluded at the San Francisco Conference.

The World Bank is established.

Creation of the United Nations Organization and adoption of the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The U.S. Congress approves a three-year extension of the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act.

The first atomic weapons are detonated.

Albert Hirschman publishes National Power and the Structure of Foreign Trade.