3 April 1948: Marshall Plan signed into law

On this day in 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall’s European Recovery Program, otherwise known as the Marshall Plan, is adopted.

In the late 1940s, western Europe faced the daunting task of reconstruction after the devastation of World War II. It was also concerned about the threat of communism: the Soviet Union had established control of central and eastern Europe, while domestic communist parties seemed on the verge of electoral success.

The only two powers capable of keeping Europe out of the Soviet orbit were Britain and the United States. Britain had contributed large numbers of troops to the continent, but was barely solvent, so the primary economic responsibility for saving Europe would fall on America.

Despite rising isolationist sentiment in the US, President Harry Truman committed his country to continued involvement in Europe in a speech in March 1947, known as the "Truman doctrine". Two months later, George Marshall, his secretary of state, pledged economic support to western Europe. While aid was offered to central and eastern Europe as well, it was conditional on economic reform and was quickly rejected by the Soviet-backed rulers.

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Marshall's proposals, formally known as the European Recovery Program, were approved by Congress in March 1948, and signed into law on 3 April. Over the next three years the US gave $12.7bn ($258bn in today's money), mostly in the form of grants.

The biggest beneficiaries were Britain, France, West Germany, Italy and Holland. Money was spent on everything from infrastructure to food. As well as providing vital support while the countries rebuilt, it has been credited with maintaining Western unity during this period.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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