History & Mission

The roots of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research trace back to the depths of the Great Depression.

It was 1932 when Dr. W. E. Upjohn, founder of The Upjohn Company, embarked on a grand experiment of providing land for displaced workers in the community so they could plant a garden or work on the company’s farm co-op to provide for themselves and their families. 

Six weeks before his death, Dr. Upjohn (1852–1932) created the W.E. Upjohn Unemployment Trustee Corporation to support the initiative. 

Three years later, federal legislation established the Unemployment Insurance System, which replaced the land with cash assistance as a social safety net for displaced workers. The Trustee Corporation, after consultation with national research and policy experts, created on July 1, 1945 what is today the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit research organization.

Today, nearly 85 years since the inception of the Trustee Corporation, the Institute continues to fulfill Dr. Upjohn’s original mission of researching the causes and consequences of unemployment, experimenting with innovative ways to help the unemployed, and disseminating research findings. Its in-house staff of researchers, complemented by grants to outside experts, analyzes a host of policy-relevant employment issues. As a modern-day equivalent of the “farm” experiment, the Institute’s Employment Management Services Division strategically plans and administers the delivery of federal- and state-funded workforce programs for the region. The Institute also disseminates the research findings from its internally generated and externally supported projects through the publication of books, newsletters, working papers, and web postings. 

Dr. Upjohn’s generous gift in creating the Trustee Corporation has provided the primary financial means to support the Institute’s activities. The endowment provides the Institute with unique opportunities of long-term sustainability, consistency in purpose, and the freedom to research issues and experiment with innovative approaches it deems most pertinent to its mission.