Lend-Lease Act, an act of Congress passed during World War II authorizing the President to “sell, transfer title to, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of . . . any defense article” to any country whose defense was deemed vital to the defense of the United States. The act was approved on March 11, 1941, while the United States was still officially neutral. The program ended August 21, 1945, a few days after the surrender of Japan. Lend-lease aid totaled $50,205,230,000, of which $31,392,361,000 went to Great Britain and other members of the British Commonwealth, $11,297,883,000 to the Soviet Union, and $3,233,859,000 to France.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the program in order to make the United States “the arsenal of democracy” at a time when Great Britain was fighting the Axis Powers alone. Opponents denounced the proposal as “an act of war.” Those supporting the President insisted that the best way to defend America was to give aid to its friends.
Aid was rushed to Great Britain, and was soon granted to China, which had been at war with Japan for several years. After Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June, 1941, the USSR began receiving vast quantities of aid, especially in the form of badly needed transportation equipment. Altogether 44 countries were made eligible for lend-lease aid, but only 38 nations requested it. An amendment to the original act permitted aid to be granted in the form of services as well as supplies.
Agreements regulating the program were signed with the various countries. Many of the countries in return provided supplies and services to the United States. This “reverse lend-lease” amounted to $7,345,747,000, mostly from the British Commonwealth countries.
President Roosevelt created the Office of Lend-Lease Administration in 1941. Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., was the administrator. In 1943, the office was consolidated into the Foreign Economic Administration headed by Leo T. Crowley.
After the war most countries agreed to make repayments, amounting usually to a few cents on the dollar. In 1948 Great Britain agreed to repay $615,000,000 in 50 annual installments. After years of negotiations, the Soviet Union agreed in 1972 to repay $722,000,000, but only if granted most-favored-nation trade status by the United States. Congress refused, finding this demand unacceptable, and the Soviet Union canceled the agreement.