The Rockefeller Foundation was the principle source for funding public opinion and psychological warfare research between the late 1930s and the end of World War Two. With limited government and corporate interest or support of propaganda-related studies, most of the money for such research came from this powerful organization that recognized the importance of ascertaining and steering public opinion in the immediate prewar years.
Rockefeller philanthropic attention toward public opinion was twofold: 1) to review and establish the psychological environment in the United States for anticipated US involvement in the coming world war and 2) to wage psychological warfare and suppress popular dissent in foreign countries, particularly Latin America. Recognizing how the Franklin Roosevelt Administration was bogged down politically and less capable of planning for war in terms of domestic and foreign propaganda efforts, Rockefeller Foundation-funded projects and research institutes were established at Princeton University, Stanford University, and the New School for Social Research to monitor and analyze shortwave radio transmissions from abroad.
The “founding fathers” of mass communication research could not have established their field without Rockefeller largesse. Alongside World War One propagandist and University of Chicago political scientist Harold Lasswell, psychologist Hadley Cantril was a principal contributor to the knowledge and information that helped propel Rockefeller-controlled enterprises and American empire in the postwar era. Throughout this period Cantril provided the Rockefeller combine with important information and new techniques in public opinion measurement and management in Europe, Latin American, and the United States.
A roommate of Nelson Rockefeller’s at Dartmouth College in the late 1920s, Cantril took a doctorate in psychology at Harvard, coauthoring The Psychology of Radio with his doctoral mentor Gordon Allport in 1935. “Radio is an altogether novel medium of communication,” Cantril and Allport observed, “preeminent as a means of social control and epochal in its influence upon the mental horizons of men.”