Under the Hood at FEE: Some Lesser-Known Facts, Past and Present

The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), now in its 71st year, was founded by Leonard E. Read in 1946 in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. (See articles about Leonard by Edmund Opitz, Mary Sennholz, and Bettina Greaves.)

Now in Atlanta, Georgia, FEE is one of the oldest existing “free market” educational organizations in the world. We’re sometimes referred to as the "granddaddy” or “mothership” of a worldwide movement to spark renewed appreciation for such noble things as private property, individual rights, voluntarism, entrepreneurship, peaceful exchange, and self-government.

You probably already know all that if you’ve been following us for a few months or more. But as you might imagine, there’s an endless array of interesting “under the hood” facts about an organization with our long history and recent, remarkable growth. The following are just a few you might not know:

  • The average age of our present 28-member staff is 32. The oldest is 68 and the youngest is 19. Not by design or policy, but by simply searching for the best we can find, our team is amazingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin, and gender. Some identify as limited government “minarchists,” others as “anarcho-capitalists” and “classical liberals,” still others as “objectivists” and “Christian libertarians.” About 80% of our staff was hired in the last three years, reflecting the fact that we love to inject fresh blood into classic ideas. The atmosphere at our office resembles that of a technology start-up, with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. You can see photos of our Atlanta office here.
  • More than 15,000 individuals have attended FEE’s multi-day, in-person seminars. Many times that number (about 20,000 per year) have attended at least one lecture by a FEE speaker. The very first FEE summer seminar was held 61 years ago, in 1956.
  • The men and women who served on FEE’s board of trustees over the years include luminaries in the business and non-profit sectors as well as former Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Idaho Senator Steve Symms, and economists Henry Hazlitt, Percy Greaves, Benjamin Rogge, Israel Kirzner, and Ludwig von Mises. Hazlitt, who died in 1993, bequeathed his personal library to FEE, which remains in our possession.
  • FEE seminar alumni include the late Congressman and Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp, Koch Industries chairman Charles Koch, Acton Institute founder Fr. Robert Sirico, The Fund for American Studies president Roger Ream (who also served as director of seminars and is our current chairman), Cancer Treatment Centers of America founder Dick Stephenson, Atlas Economic Research Foundation president Alex Chafuen, former Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner, and countless others of note.
  • Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was the guest of honor and keynote speaker at FEE’s 50th-anniversary banquet at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1996.
  • Interns work for every department within FEE, from programs to fundraising. During our busy summer season, as many as 10 people in the office may be interns, and they come from all over the world. Aside from the US, interns working for FEE right now come from Australia, Brazil, and Russia. An internship has many times led to a full-time position at FEE.
  • FEE and its president, Leonard E. Read, were the targets of a congressional witch hunt in 1950, with Read himself called to testify before a hostile committee of the US House of Representatives. We were suspected of being a “subversive” organization.
  • The international reach of FEE is huge. Brazil, Poland, and Guatemala rank highest in translations and repostings of FEE publications. In 2016 alone, FEE staff and associated scholars lectured to thousands in two dozen countries on four continents. Seminar attendees since 1956 have come from 98 nations (and all 50 US states). One of our free online courses, “Economics in One Day,” has been translated into German, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Sinhalese, and Spanish.
  • Since we started collecting data in November 2012, FEE.org’s primary source of traffic has been organic search (people finding us on their own through Google or other search engines). But in 2016, social media sharing (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) surpassed organic search for the first time.
  • The inaugural edition of Ludwig von Mises’s magnum opus, Human Action, would not have been published by Yale University Press had Leonard Read not agreed to pre-purchase a substantial number of the initial print run. After his falling out with Yale, FEE became Mises’s main publisher.
  • An extensive, archived file of correspondence between Leonard Read and Ayn Rand includes a letter from Rand in which she opposed the name “Foundation for Economic Education,” arguing that the emphasis should be on the moral, not the economic, case for free enterprise. Of course, the moral argument has always been an integral component of the FEE message, and in recent years has included the very important dimension of personal character.
  • Ronald Reagan and Leonard Read knew each other and corresponded. The President sent Read a photo of himself reading FEE’s journal, The Freeman, next to a sleeping Nancy Reagan on Air Force One.
  • For internal communication, FEE staff rarely use email. We communicate primarily on a digital chatting medium called Slack.
  • As a student at Columbia University, future economist Murray Rothbard first heard of FEE during a lecture by George J. Stigler, who referred the young Rothbard to a FEE publication on rent control. Titled “Roofs or Ceilings?” it was authored by Stigler and a young Milton Friedman. Rothbard wrote to request a copy, and then later learned through FEE that Mises was teaching a weekly seminar at New York University. Rothbard became a regular attendee of those seminars, sponsored largely by a FEE trustee.
  • At the height of its print circulation, The Freeman, boasted a subscriber list of 50,000. Now we publish the equivalent of an entire issue of the old Freeman every single day online. We have 50,000 people receiving all of FEE’s content in their email six days a week. Utilizing on-staff talent, we completely rebuilt our website in 2015. Unique visitors to the FEE.org site now exceed 1 million every month, second in the “liberty space” only to Reason.org.
  • Frederic Bastiat’s classic book, The Law, was long out of print when FEE commissioned a translation by Dean Russell and published it decades ago. FEE popularized The Law, which remains one of the most demanded of our publications.
  • The mansion that served as FEE’s ancestral headquarters (1946-2014) in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, was built in the 1880s when Grover Cleveland was President of the United States. It was designed and inhabited by the Rockefeller family’s personal physician.
  • Everything FEE publishes (including all four online courses and a fifth soon to be added) is under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which means people are free to copy, adapt, remix, translate, and use any FEE material for their own purposes (including commercial). We only ask to be notified and that the re-use attribute the content to FEE.org
  • FEE’s work has spawned numerous new organizations and publications over the years, each appealing to their own audiences and offering differing themes and emphases. Leonard Read always believed this very fact would be FEE’s greatest legacy. The ideas for at least two such organizations, the Institute for Humane Studies and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute were hatched at our original Irvington, New York home.
  • On a personal note, I first learned of FEE in 1968, at about the age of 15 (see “The Sound of Freedom). I published my first of hundreds of FEE articles in 1977. My first FEE-sponsored speaking engagement was in 1978 in Houston, Texas. When I ran for Congress in Michigan in 1982, Leonard Read (whom I first met five years before) sent me a campaign contribution and a very nice letter, which I still proudly possess. That was only a year before he died, in May 1983. I served eight years on the FEE board of trustees from 1993 to 2001 and chaired the board in those final three years. I was elected president of FEE in 2008 and am the second-longest-serving FEE president after Leonard himself.

While we’re immensely proud of our history, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!