1940s / Out of the Ashes

As World War II draws to a close, Allied leaders draft plans for a postwar economic order.

  • July 1944

    Bretton Woods Conference

    Representatives of 44 Allied nations, seeking to avoid the mistakes that led to Depression and World War II, meet to plan a new economic order built on global cooperation. They set up a system of exchange rates linked to the dollar to be supervised by the IMF, and they give the Fund three critical missions: promoting international monetary cooperation, supporting the expansion of trade and economic growth, and discouraging policies that would harm prosperity.

  • March 1947

    IMF begins operations

    Membership starts at 40 and grows to 189 by 2016, with the entry of Nauru.

  • May 8, 1945

    VE Day

    Germany surrenders to Allied forces, ending war in Europe.

1950s / Cold War

Communist nations, dominated by the Soviet Union and China, withdraw from the global economic system.

  • June 1948

    Berlin blockade

    Soviet Union begins blockade of West Berlin, which is to last until May 12, 1949, in first major Cold War confrontation.

  • March 1950

    Poland withdraws from IMF

    Eastern bloc nation acts under pressure from USSR as Cold War intensifies. Poland will be readmitted in 1986.

  • October 1956

    Suez crisis

    Conflict over Suez Canal, involving Egypt, France, Israel, and the United Kingdom, touches off international political crisis with major economic repercussions.

  • First big loans

    Suez Crisis is an early test of IMF’s crisis management role and leads to first large burst of lending by IMF to the four countries involved.

1960s / Decolonization of Africa

Under pressure from independence movements, France, United Kingdom, and other European powers give up their colonies.

  • 1961

    IMF creates Africa Department

    Only three of the IMF’s earliest members were in Africa: Egypt, Ethiopia, and South Africa. By end of 1969, another 34 have joined.

1970s / Vietnam War and Oil Shocks

US spending on Vietnam War and domestic social programs leads to inflation and overvaluation of dollar.

  • August 1971

    Gold convertibility ends

    US President Richard Nixon suspends convertibility of dollar into gold, ending system of fixed exchange rates created at Bretton Woods.

  • OPEC oil embargo

    In wake of Arab-Israeli war, OPEC members announce embargo against United States, Canada, Japan, United Kingdom, and Netherlands, leading to surge in global oil prices. IMF creates new tools to help countries facing an energy emergency, in line with the Fund’s role to help smooth shocks and prevent harmful spillovers.

  • April 1978

    Flexible exchange rates

    IMF acknowledges right of members to adopt exchange-rate arrangements of their choice.

1980s / International Debt Crisis

Banks use “petrodollars”—profits of oil-producing countries—to increase lending to developing nations.

  • August 1982

    Mexico defaults

    Renunciation of foreign debt marks beginning of debt crisis across Latin America. IMF takes on role of international crisis manager.

  • March 1986

    Help for low-income nations

    IMF establishes facility to lend to low-income developing countries at below-market rates.

1990s / Collapse of Communism, Debt Relief

Formerly communist nations join the global economy, and capital starts to flow more freely across borders.

  • November 1989

    Fall of Berlin Wall

    Collapse of communism in Europe ends postwar division of the continent.

  • December 1991

    Soviet Union dissolved

    Twenty formerly communist nations soon join the IMF, the biggest expansion of its membership since the 1960s. Fund plays a central role in helping them manage transition from centrally planned to market-driven economies with policy advice, technical assistance, and financial support.

  • December 1994

    Mexican crisis

    Mexico devalues peso against dollar, prompting investors to withdraw funding. IMF participates in $50 billion program to stabilize Mexico’s economy. It also provides financial assistance to Russia, Brazil, and other emerging markets.

  • 1996

    Debt relief

    IMF and World Bank launch Initiative for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries to ensure that no low-income country bears a debt burden it cannot manage. Debt relief for 36 countries comes to almost $77 billion by 2017.

  • July 1997

    Asian financial crisis

    Thailand devalues baht, marking beginning of Asian crisis.

  • August 1997

    IMF loans

    IMF announces $17 billion program for Thailand, followed by packages of $23 billion for Indonesia and $57 billion for South Korea.

  • 1998

    Crisis in Russia

    Asian crisis spreads to Russia, already hobbled by severe budget deficits, causing plunge in Russian stocks, bonds, and ruble. IMF and international lenders provide $22.6 billion to help stabilize country’s economy.

  • 1999

    FSAP created

    IMF and World Bank, drawing on experience of Asian crisis, create Financial Sector Assessment Program to gauge resilience of members’ financial systems.

  • January 1999

    Euro born

    Euro is initially used as unit of account to replace European currency unit, or ECU. Euro notes and coins begin to circulate January 1, 2002. European Central Bank granted observer status at IMF.

2000s / Debt Forgiveness, Global Financial Crisis

  • January 2001

    Debt relief

    IMF and World Bank announce that 22 countries, including 18 in Africa, qualify for debt relief.

  • December 2001

    China joins WTO

    Entry into World Trade Organization marks China’s integration into global economy.

  • September 2008

    Lehman Brothers declares bankruptcy

    Collapse of US investment bank marks beginning of global financial crisis. In following decade, IMF provides financing of about $500 billion to 90 countries and injects $250 billion into global financial system, helping avert another Great Depression and enabling recovery of global economy.

  • November 2008

    G20 Washington summit

    Leaders of Group of 20 major advanced and emerging market economies lay foundation for reforms to strengthen global financial system. In years that follow, IMF works with standard-setting bodies to improve surveillance and strengthen supervision and regulation of financial firms. G20 nations agree to undergo mandatory financial sector assessments by IMF.

2010s / A Halting Recovery

As advanced economies struggle to recover, turmoil sweeps Middle East.

  • December 2010

    Governance reform

    IMF board approves far-reaching changes that give greater say in decisions to China, India, Mexico, Brazil, and other emerging market economies.

  • 2010-13

    European sovereign debt crisis

    Soaring budget deficits sow doubt about ability of several European countries to repay debts. Government bailouts of ailing banks add to pressure, temporarily shaking investor confidence in viability of euro. IMF joins European Central Bank and European Commission in providing emergency loans to Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, and Portugal.

  • 2011-2014

    Arab Spring

    Unrest and civil conflict sweep across Middle East, removing rulers in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. IMF provides $37 billion in loans to stabilize and reform region’s economies and technical assistance on taxation, monetary policy, and public finances, among other areas.

  • 2014-15

    Ebola response

    IMF is one of first international financial institutions to respond, delivering $130 million to three countries in September 2014, and another $160 million in February 2015.

  • September 2016

    Renminbi joins currency basket

    Chinese currency added to IMF’s currency basket alongside dollar, euro, pound, and yen in sign of China’s growing importance in global economy.

  • April-June 2018

    Argentine crisis

    IMF approves $50 billion loan, later increased to $57 billion, to help Argentina’s economy in the face of destabilizing market conditions.

2020s / A Crisis Like No Other

The COVID-19 pandemic creates the worst recession since the Great Depression.

  • 2020

    The Great Lockdown

    To tackle the health emergency, countries froze large chunks of economic life. The IMF acts swiftly to help its members. Enormous uncertainty clouds the prospects for the global economy.