The Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank and policy research group, moved to Indianapolis in 1984 from Croton-on-Hudson, in New York, where it had been located since its founding in 1961 by the late Herman Kahn, a physicist, strategist, and futurist, who is best known for his controversial studies of nuclear warfare.

Laurel Hall, ca. 1916 Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

After graduating from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1945, Kahn worked for several aircraft-manufacturing companies. He completed a master’s degree at the California Institute of Technology, in 1948, and began working for the RAND Corp., a private research center headquartered in Santa Monica, California, funded primarily by the U.S. Air Force.

Kahn left RAND and founded the Hudson Institute after he came to public notice with the publication of his On Thermonuclear War (1960), “in which he presented his proposition that thermonuclear war differs only in degree and not in kind from conventional war and ought to be analyzed and planned in the same way.” Under Kahn’s leadership, the institute’s work originally centered upon predicting future trends and building a strong national defense capable of effective nuclear deterrence.

After Kahn died in 1983, Hudson’s trustees felt that the institute’s future depended on its relocation to “a community more supportive of the organization and its mission.” So when Indianapolis leaders in the business and political sectors, backed by strong support from Indiana and Purdue universities and lilly endowment, inc. made an appealing offer to Hudson’s trustees, they accepted. The Endowment provided a grant of $1.5 million over three years (about $3.8 million in 2020), and the state of Indiana provided $100,000 for moving costs. Thomas D. Bell Jr., who had held senior positions in government and business, served as president of the Institute at the time of the move.

Hudson operated out of offices on the Indiana University-Purdue University At Indianapolis campus until permanent headquarters were found in 1986 in the historic Stoughton A. Fletcher Ii mansion in the Windridge area on the city’s northeast side. Originally called Laurel Hall when it was built in 1916 by the scion of the Indianapolis banking family, the mansion served as home for Ladywood School and R. V. Welch’s Manor House before welcoming more than 50 staffers and researchers into its spacious quarters and being rechristened “The Herman Kahn Center of the Hudson Institute.”

While in Indianapolis, the Institute focused on subjects ranging from economic development and health care to global food policy and urban affairs. In the 1990s Hudson lent technical assistance to former Soviet bloc European countries. One of the institute’s major projects for the 1990s was “The Modern Red Schoolhouse,” an effort to revitalize American education by building innovative schools in several school districts in Indiana, Arizona, New York, and North Carolina.

The organization also had offices in Washington, D.C., and Montreal, Canada. Herbert Ira London, who was a leader of the conservative movement and later launched the London Center for Policy Research (2013), became president of the organization in 1997.

In 2004, under London’s leadership, the Hudson Institute Board of Trustees resolved to move to consolidate its operations in Washington, D. C. The board decided that the organization needed to return to its roots working in the areas of national security and foreign policy. To concentrate on research in these areas, Herb London, who was then the Institute’s president, stated that the best place to do this was in the nation’s capital. Hudson scholars regularly publish “interdisciplinary studies in defense, international relations, health care, technology, culture, and law.” Its funding comes primarily from government contracts and private sector grants from corporations, foundations, and individuals.

With the departure of the Hudson Institute, Indiana U.S. Senator Dan Coates and former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and deputy assistant to President George W. Bush Jay Hein established the Sagamore Institute in 2004 to establish a new think tank to represent the values and geography of the nation’s heartland.

Revised June 2021

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