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In the early years of the young Federal Republic of Germany, the states (Länder) initially regulated the joint funding of research institutions (1949 Königstein Agreement, based on Article 30 of the Basic Law). Soon enough, however, there were calls for a nationwide allocation of financial resources for the development and establishment of the German research and higher education system.

The first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Konrad Adenauer, signed an Administrative Agreement on the establishment of a Science and Humanities Council on 5 September 1957. An institution arose from this agreement which, for the very first time, would provide an overview of the scientific work carried out in the Federal Republic and to make proposals to the federal and state governments for the promotion of science.

Leading scientists and politicians had been campaigning for the establishment of a Science and Humanities Council since the mid-1950s, including the President of the German Research Foundation, Gerhard Hess, and Federal President Theodor Heuss, who appointed scientists and public figures to the German Science and Humanities Council (Wissenschaftsrat, WR) and chaired its constituent assembly on 6 February 1958.