Sister Cities International has a rich history of citizen diplomacy and building relationships all across the world. See our timeline below for the best moments from the first sister city relationship to our 50th anniversary conference. For a more in-depth look at the first 50 years of Sister Cities International history, check out the online version of our anniversary book Peace Through People: 50 Years of Global Citizenship.

Although many communities site evidence of exchanges or other activities, Sister Cities International has verified that officials from Toledo, Ohio, and Toledo, Spain signed a twinning document in 1931.

On September 11, 1956, President Eisenhower brought Americans representing all walks of life to Washington D.C. to attend a White House Conference on Citizen Diplomacy. This conference formed the capstone of the People-To-People program.

Mark Bortman was the first leader to chair the Civic Committee (the main cog in the mechanism of citizen diplomacy) and saw the sister cities movement grow from some 40 affiliations after the Committee was formed in 1956 to over 350 U.S. communities linked with communities in 57 countries until his death In 1967.

The National League of Cities, then the American Municipal Association, approved participation in a joint cooperative program with the Civic Committee of People-to-People to further the U.S. Sister Cities program on July 24, 1957.

The very first national sister cities conference was held in Washington D.C. on February 27-28, 1958 and helped point the way to the future growth the program would enjoy.

The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc. sponsored the awards program from 1963 through the mid-1990s. Through the Annual Awards Program, the outstanding projects and activities conducted by sister cities throughout the world are recognized and rewarded.

The Town Affiliation Association of the United States, Inc., was finally incorporated on June 12, 1967 in Washington, D.C.

The Town Affiliation Association of the United States, Inc., amended its bylaws to define an accredited sister city relationship as one that had formally been “recognized by the mayor and city council of the chief executive and legislative body of the area.”

On March 28, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed away, just three years after the 10th anniversary of the People-to-People program. In the Town Affiliation News, the editors encouraged readers, saying:

“Now is the time and opportunity for all Americans as well as the citizens of the many friendly nations to join in the spirit of People-to-People and build in Eisenhower’s remembrance not just an inert monument of stone, but a living memorial that will carry on his drive for universal understanding and peace.”

On January 19th, the “primary responsibility for U.S. government relations with the Town Affiliation Association of the United States” was transferred from the United States Information Agency to the Department of State under the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Louis Wozar, a civic leader and industrialist from Dayton, Ohio, was elected the third president of the association at the annual conference in Seattle, Washington. He traveled to more than 60 countries on behalf of the sister cities program at his own expense, and is the namesake of Sister Cities International’s current annual awards dinner.

1974 was the first year that the annual conference was called the “Sister Cities International Conference”. It took place in Phoenix, Arizona in September, and the theme was “Communicating for World Peace.”

Savannah, Georgia and sister city Patras, Greece, became the 500th United States community to join the growing sister city program. This occasion was marked by accolades from President Gerald Ford. Lou Wozar presented the President with three volumes of American history and a Sister Cities International pin to mark the milestone.

The Technical Assistance Program was established in 1977 to exchange technical expertise between United States communities and affiliated communities in developing countries. Supported partially by a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), these projects brought sister city partners from developing countries to the United States and helped them work with their United States partners to improve the quality of life in their communities. Hialeah, Florida and Managua, Nicaragua were the first communities to receive a grant.

The precursor to our current Young Artists and Authors Showcase, the National Tri-Media Contest encouraged youth to think about “the Challenge of Saving our World Environment” and express their thoughts through essays, poetry, or photography.

Popular singer and writer, John Denver, recorded “Sister Cities: We Are One.” The song was introduced at the 30th anniversary conference in Los Angeles. The song was performed by co-author and writing partner Dik Darnell and accompanied by “Kids of the Century” (who appeared on the popular television show “Fame”).

The Mayor of Washington D.C. proclaims October 7-8, 1988 as “International Sister Cities Days in Washington, D.C.

Sister Cities International held a photo contest in 1996 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sister city movement. These images celebrated the beauty and power of sister city friendships and programs. Today, youth can submit their photos to Sister Cities International’s Young Artists and Authors Showcase to express their passion for citizen diplomacy.

The Global Envoy Program started in 2001 as a way to increase Sister Cities International’s presence at global events. The envoys represent Sister Cities International at conferences, embassies, meetings, and other important events to spread the mission of the organization. See our Global Envoys here.

The 50th Anniversary Conference in Washington D.C. celebrated the past while looking to the future of the citizen diplomacy movement. It was held in conjunction with the National Summit on Citizen Diplomacy, as well as an International Youth Summit on Global Citizenship for students to develop leadership skills, advocate for citizen diplomacy issues, and make lifelong friendships.