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2016 is the Wenner-Gren Foundation's 75th Anniversary

Axel Wenner-Gren and Paul Fejos
Axel Wenner-Gren and Paul Fejos have lunch near an excavation in Vilcabamba, Peru, 1941

The 75th anniversary has provided the opportunity to reflect on the Foundation's history (which includes some decidedly quirky aspects), its role in supporting the development of Anthropology, and how it can continue to best support the field moving into the future.  Individual research and international anthropology will continue to be central Foundation foci, but the Foundation’s 75th anniversary initiatives also include support for the public awareness of Anthropology.  We strongly believe that increasing anthropology’s presence in the public sphere will help to demonstrate how anthropological research, theories, and perspectives can deepen our everyday experiences, understanding and appreciation of being human.

The Foundations 75th Anniversary Initiatives include:

  1. The establishment of SAPIENS, an editorially independent online publication dedicated to popularizing anthropological research to a worldwide audience. Its aim is to share the field’s most exciting, relevant, thought-provoking, and unconventional ideas. We consider this initiative to be as important to the field as was the establishment of Current Anthropology over 50 years ago, and aim for it to become an important public outlet for anthropological research.
  2. Innovations in the Public Awareness of Anthropology. This new grant program is designed to support innovative projects to raise public awareness of anthropology among groups of all ages. There is a tremendous amount of interest in popularizing Anthropology, particularly among younger colleagues. Our intention is to provide support for the most creative of these initiatives.
  3. Fejos Postdoctoral Fellowship in Ethnographic Film. The fellowship supports ethnographic film is named after Paul Fejos, who was an early ethnographic film maker (1935-1941) and the first director of the Wenner-Gren Foundation (1941-1963). Fejos was the person who convinced the Viking Fund to focus on Anthropological research.
  4. 75th Anniversary Issue of Current Anthropology. This open access, supplementary issue of CA will focus on the history of the foundation and include a substantive official history of the Foundation (Lindee, Susan and Joanna Radin. “Making up Anthropology: A History of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 1941-2015.”), an article on the establishment of the Foundation (Luciak, Ilja. “The Origins of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research: An Essay on the Complex Friendship between Paul Fejos and Axel Wenner-Gren.”), and an article on Paul Fejos’s early career as a film maker (Krebs, Edgardo. “Paul Fejos’s early film career.”). 

In addition, the Foundation has taken this opportunity to retire its historic dancing figure logo (http://www.wennergren.org/history/story-and-people-wenner-gren) . The design was commissioned in 1947 from the well-known Mexican artist, Miguel Covarrubias and is clearly a reflection of both of his artistic style and of the times – but not of modern Anthropology. The new logo is crisp and contemporary. We hope that it will quickly come to be associated with the Wenner-Gren Foundation and our continuing support for international anthropology.

The following are some fun facts about the 75-year history of the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

  • The Foundation was founded on Valentine’s Day in 1941 (February 14, 1941). It was a Friday.
  • The original endowment was ~ $2 million in Electrolux Servel Stock (worth ~$32 million in inflation-corrected dollars).
  • Alex Wenner-Gren founded Electrolux and was one of the wealthiest men in the world in the 1930s, realizing most women would want a household vacuum cleaner. He succeeded in losing his entire fortune by the time he died in 1961.
  • The Foundation does not fund-raise and operates off of the investment income from the original endowment, which is now worth ~$165 million. We have a top-notch Investment Committee.
  • The original name of the Foundation was the Viking Fund (Alex Wenner-Gren considered himself to be the last Viking). The name was changed to the Wenner-Gren Foundation on the Foundation’s 10th anniversary in 1951 to honor Wenner-Gren. Some think that the real intention was to flatter him into significantly increasing the endowment. It didn’t work.
  • The Foundation was originally established to promote “research, educational, technical and scientific work.”  It had nothing specifically to do with Anthropology. The anthropological focus only came later when Paul Fejos, the Foundation’s first Director of Research, convinced Wenner-Gren that the relatively small endowment could be put to better use supporting the nascent field.
  • One of the Foundation’s earliest successes was support in 1948 for Willard Libby and the development of Carbon-14 dating. Most other funders thought the project too risky. Libby received the Nobel Prize for this work in 1960. The Foundation continues to support high risk projects with potentially significant outcomes.
  • When the Foundation launched Current Anthropology in the late 1950’s, it sent the founding editor, Sol Tax, around the world to talk to over 600 anthropologists from every continent (except Australia?) to determine the type of journal that was needed.
  • The journal’s CA treatment (reply format) became the anthropological internet of the early 1960’s, promoting communication between international scholars.
  • The Foundation once owned a castle in Austria (Burg Wartenstein) and ran a commercial casting company producing casts of early hominins (AnthroCast). Both ventures had significant impacts for Anthropology but by the mid-1970s had put the Foundation is serious financial jeopardy.
  • Today the Foundation is financially healthy and focuses on its core mission of research support, international networking and leadership for the field. Since the mid-1980s it has given out ~$100,000,000 dollars (inflation-corrected), supporting over 5,000 grantees representing 118 nationalities in 89 countries. Its 2016 grant and program budget is $5.6 million.

More information on the history of the Foundation can be found at: http://www.wennergren.org/history