History of the United Nations
A map of the world with countries displayed in colours corresponding to the dates the countries joined the United Nations. Countries not involved with the United Nations are shown in grey.
A map of the world showing when countries joined the United Nations
The history of the United Nations as an international organization has its origins in World War II. Since then its aims and activities have expanded to make it the archetypal international body in the early 21st century.
US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt first suggested using the name United Nations to refer to the Allies of World War II. Roosevelt suggested the term to Winston Churchill who cited Byron's use of the phrase "united nations" in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, which referred to the Allies at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Franklin Roosevelt adopted the name and the first official use of the term occurred on January 1, 1942 with the Declaration by the United Nations.
During subsequent phases of World War II the Allies used the term United Nations to refer to their alliance.
A black and white motion picture of some men signing papers on a desk in the center of a huge decorated room.
The founding of the United Nations
The idea for the future United Nations as an international organization emerged in declarations signed at the wartime Allied conferences: the Moscow Conference and the Tehran Conference in 1943.
From August to October 1944, representatives of the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the USSR met to elaborate plans at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in Washington, D.C. Those and later talks produced proposals outlining the purposes of the United Nations organization, its membership and organs, as well as arrangements to maintain international peace and security and international economic and social cooperation. Governments and private citizens worldwide discussed and debated these proposals. 
At the Yalta Conference it was agreed that membership would be open to nations that had joined the Allies by 1 March 1945. Brazil, Syria and a number of other countries qualified for membership by declarations of war on either Germany or Japan in the first three months of 1945 – in some cases retroactively.
On April 25, 1945, the United Nations Conference on International Organization began in San Francisco. In addition to governments, a number of non-government organizations, including Rotary International and Lions Clubs International received invitations to assist in the drafting of a charter. After working for two months, the fifty nations represented at the conference signed the Charter of the United Nations on June 26. Poland, which was unable to send a representative to the conference due to political instability, signed the charter on October 15, 1945. The charter stated that before it would come into effect, it must be ratified by the Governments of the Republic of China, France, the USSR, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and by a majority of the other 46 signatories. This occurred on October 24, 1945, and the United Nations was officially formed.
The League of Nations formally dissolved itself on 18 April 1946 and transferred its mission to the United Nations.
The United Nations has achieved considerable prominence in the social arena, fostering human rights, economic development, decolonization, health and education, for example, and interesting itself in refugees and trade.
Main article: History of United Nations Peacekeeping
The leaders of the UN had high hopes that it would act to prevent conflicts between nations and make future wars impossible. Those hopes have obviously not fully come to pass. From about 1947 until 1991 the division of the world into hostile camps during the Cold War made agreement on peacekeeping matters extremely difficult. Following the end of the Cold War, renewed calls arose for the UN to become the agency for achieving world peace and co-operation, as several dozen active military conflicts continued to rage across the globe. The breakup of the Soviet Union has also left the United States in a unique position of global dominance, creating a variety of new problems for the UN (See the United States and the United Nations).
Two skyscraper buildings on the bank of a river.
UN headquarters in New York City
Huge complex of skyscrapers and other large buildings interlaced with trees and gardens. The surrounding area as far as the horizon is filled with trees and large rivers. In the foreground a crane and small building site show that a new construction is underway.
UN building in Vienna
In December 1945, the US Senate and the US House of Representatives, by unanimous votes, requested that the UN make its headquarters in the United States. The UN accepted this suggestion and, after considering sites in the Black Hills, Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, Navy Island and what would become the World Trade Center site, constructed the United Nations headquarters building in New York City in 1949 and 1950 beside the East River on land purchased with an $8.5 million donation from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The UN headquarters officially opened on January 9, 1951, although construction was not formally completed until October 9, 1952.
Under special agreement with the United States, the UN enjoys certain diplomatic privileges and immunities, but generally the laws of New York City, New York State, and the United States apply.
While the principal headquarters of the UN remain in New York City, major agencies base themselves in Geneva, The Hague, Vienna, Nairobi and elsewhere.
Structure and associated organizations
[icon] This section requires expansion. (January 2011)
The basic constitutional makeup of the United Nations has changed little, though vastly increased membership has altered the functioning of some elements. The UN as a whole has generated a rich assortment of non-governmental organizations and special bodies over the years: some with a regional focus, some specific to the various peacekeeping missions, and others of global scope and importance. Other bodies (such as the International Labour Organization) formed prior to the establishment of the United Nations and only subsequently became associated with it.