The Story of the NFTC

The NFTC was born out of an idea that the success of U.S. businesses is intricately tied to access to global markets and international consumers. In 1914, the nation’s first Secretary of Commerce, William Cox Redfield, realized that the looming specter of war in Europe, coupled with the imminent opening of the Panama Canal, represented an unprecedented opportunity for U.S. businesses.

How it Started

With the blessing of President Woodrow Wilson, the United States’ first Secretary of Commerce Secretary William C. Redfield organized the first National Foreign Trade Convention on May 27, 1914. During that first meeting, business and political leaders from across the country and across the economy gathered at the Raleigh Hotel in Washington DC to discuss the importance of international trade for the growth of their businesses, cities, and the American economy; the role of commercial diplomacy for advancing democratic values worldwide; and the need for the federal government to pursue policies for opening markets and ensuring fair, rules-based trade across the globe.

On the last day of the conference, by unanimous resolution, the National Foreign Trade Convention created a committee of industry and trade experts to convene future annual conventions, and “to coordinate the foreign trade activities of the nation” in conjunction with the government and other business organizations. This committee of experts was dubbed the National Foreign Trade Council.


The NFTC has been honored many times in its more than 100 year history, most notably as one of the inaugural winners of the prestigious President’s “E” Award for Exporting Service Excellence in 1962, the nation’s highest export honor.

In 2014, our Centennial year, the NFTC was honored by NASBITE International with its Advancing International Trade Award; the World Trade Week NYC with its Global Trade Award. And on May 28, 2014, our centennial birthday, the NFTC was presented the President’s “E Star” Award for our continued excellence in opening markets and supporting US exporters.

Past NFTC Presidents and Board Chairs

It’s a remarkable fact that since 1932 when the office was created, the NFTC has had just 9 presidents. (Prior to that time, Chairman James A. Farrell also served as de facto NFTC President.)

The NFTC President is the CEO and COO of the organization, directing the day to day activities of the staff in pursuit of the organization’s goals. He or she is also a member of the NFTC Board of Directors.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors convenes and chairs board meetings, setting goals and overall direction of the organization. The Chairman must be from an NFTC member company.

NFTC Presidents (1932-present)
NFTC Board Chairs (1914-present)


The NFTC also maintains its own awards program, a tradition since 1938. The family of Captain Robert Dollar, founder of the Dollar Steamship Lines and a charter member of the NFTC Board of Directors, created an annual award in his name to recognize business and policy leaders for their accomplishments in the advancement of international trade and investment. The first winner of the Captain Robert Dollar Award was Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

The Captain Dollar award was last presented in 1985, to David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett Packard Company.

In February, 2002, the NFTC Foundation created the annual World Trade Award in the tradition of the Captain Robert Dollar Memorial Award, for lifetime achievement in advancing open world trade and investment, awarded annually at the NFTC Foundation World Trade Dinner and Awards Ceremony. Since 2019, the NFTC Foundation has also awarded an International Tax Award to individuals who have demonstrated exemplary efforts in advancing international tax rules.

In 2014, the NFTC Foundation’s Global Innovation Forum awarded the first Trade Leadership for the Digital Trade Award in recognition of the leadership and contributions of political and business leaders for advancing frameworks beneficial to the conduct of global business in the Internet age and raising awareness of the ways technology democratizes access to the global marketplace for the benefit of the people and the planet.

Recipients of the NFTC Captain Robert Dollar Memorial Award
Recipients of the NFTC World Trade Award
Recipients of the Trade Leadership for the Digital Trade Award
Recipients of the International Tax Award

NFTC Timeline