The Institution was set up by Hoover, a wealthy engineer who was one of Stanford's first graduates. In 1928, he was elected President of the United States. He had been in charge of major relief efforts in Europe in 1914-1917 in Belgium and again after the world war in central and eastern Europe, especially Russia. Hoover's plan was to collect and permanently preserve the documents of major events for open research. Hoover's search team obtained rare printed and unpublished material. They included the papers of activists on the far left and far right, including the files of the Okhrana (the Tsarist secret police). In 1960, W. Glenn Campbell became director. He specialized in fund raising, setting up research operations and building collections regarding China and the Soviet Union. Relations improved with the host university.
In 1919, Hoover donated $50,000 to Stanford University to support the collection of primary materials related to World War I, a project that became known as the Hoover War Collection. Supported primarily by gifts from private donors, the Hoover War Collection flourished in its early years. In 1922, the Collection became known as the Hoover War Library. The Hoover War Library was housed in the Stanford Library, separate from the general stacks. By 1926, the Hoover War Library was known as the largest library in the world devoted to the Great War. By 1929, it contained 1.4 million items and was becoming too large to house in the Stanford Library. In 1938, the War Library revealed building plans for Hoover Tower, which was to be its permanent home independent of the Stanford Library system. The 285-foot tall tower was completed in 1941, Stanford University's fiftieth anniversary. Since then, the tower has been a key landmark for campus. On its 14th floor, the tower has an observation deck which holds a carillon of 48 bells that were donated to former president Hoover in 1940.
By 1946, the agenda of the Hoover War Library had expanded to include research activities; thus the organization was renamed the Hoover Institution and Library on War, Revolution and Peace. At this time, Herbert Hoover was living in New York City but remained integrally involved in the Hoover Institution and Library as a benefactor, fundraiser, and consultant.
In 1956 former President Hoover, under the auspices of the Institution and Library, launched a major fundraising campaign that allowed the Institution to realize its current form as a think tank and archive. In 1957, the Hoover Institution and Library was renamed the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace--the name it holds today.
In 1960, W. Glenn Campbell was appointed director and substantial budget increases soon led to corresponding increases in acquisitions and related research projects. In particular, the Chinese and Russian collections grew considerably. Despite student unrest in the 1960s, the institution continued to thrive and develop closer relations with Stanford.
In 1975 Ronald Reagan, who was Governor of California at that time, was designated as Hoovers first honorary fellow. He donated his gubernatorial papers to the Hoover library. During that time the Hoover Institution held a general budget of $3.5 million a year. In 1976, one third of Stanford University's book holdings were housed at the Hoover library. At that time, it was the largest private archive collection in the United States.
Until 1979, Hoover's annual budget was about $5.7 million, of which about forty percent was used to fund research (more than four times as much as twenty years ago). For his presidential campaign in 1980, Reagan engaged at least thirteen Hoover scholars to support the campaign in multiple capacities. After Reagan won the election campaign, more than thirty current or former Hoover Institution fellows worked for the Reagan administration in 1981.
In 1989, Campbell retired as director of Hoover. He was replaced by John Raisian. This change of personnel was seen as the end of an era.
In August 2017 the David and Joan Traitel Building was inaugurated. The ground floor is a large conference center with a 400-seat auditorium and the top floor houses the Hoover Institution's headquarters. The auditorium is now a symbolic bridge between Hoover and Stanford Campus. In the future,[when?] Traitel will be joined by the George Shultz Building.
In 2019 the Hoover Institution celebrated its centenary. Hoover has 65 Senior Fellows, 45 Research Fellows, 26 Senior Guest Fellows, 6 National Fellows and 8 National Security Fellows. They are an interdisciplinary group of humanists, political scientists studying education, economics, foreign policy, energy, history, law, national security, health and politics.
The Institution has libraries which include materials from both the First World War and Second World War, including the collection of documents of President Hoover, which he began to collect at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Thousands of Persian books, official documents, letters, multimedia pieces and other materials on Iran's history, politics and culture can also be found at the Stanford University library and the Hoover Institution library.
During the Trump administration, the Hoover Institution had close relations with the administration. Multiple Hoover Institution affiliates filled top positions in the administration. These included Scott Atlas, a radiologist who pushed for policies contrary to the recommendations of the scientific community in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.
In May 2018 the website of the Hoover Institution listed 198 fellows.
Below is a list of directors and some of the more prominent fellows, former and current.
The Hoover Institution's in-house publisher, Hoover Institution Press, produces multiple publications on public policy topics, including the quarterly periodicals Hoover Digest, Education Next, China Leadership Monitor, and Defining Ideas. The Hoover Institution Press previously published the bimonthly periodical Policy Review, which it acquired from The Heritage Foundation in 2001.Policy Review ceased publication with its February-March 2013 issue.
In addition to these periodicals, the Hoover Institution Press publishes books and essays by Hoover Institution fellows and other Hoover-affiliated scholars.
The Hoover Institution receives nearly half of its funding from private gifts, primarily from individual contributions, and the other half from its endowment.
Paul, Gary Norman. "The Development of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace Library, 1919-1944". PhD dissertation U. of California, Berkeley. Dissertation Abstracts International 1974 35(3): 1682-1683a, 274 pp.