From the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the 1956 Revolution to the fall of Communism and the establishment of modern, stable democracy, Hungarian history has been both rich and varied.
1869: Establishment of Consular Relations
The first US diplomatic post to the Kingdom of Hungary was established in 1869 when a Consular Agent was appointed in Pesth. A Consul was then assigned in 1874 (those appointed after 1888 were accredited to Budapest). The post became a Consulate General in 1904 and was closed in 1917. The only other consular post in the Kingdom of Hungary was at Fiume, the Kingdom’s only seaport, between 1865 to 1917 (Fiorello LaGuardia, future Mayor of New York City, served there from 1904-06). Hungary opened its first consular posts in the United States in 1922, with a Consulate General in New York City and Consulates in Pittsburg, Chicago, and Cleveland.
1921: U.S. Recognition of Hungarian Independence
After the United States declared war on Germany, Austria-Hungary severed diplomatic relations with the United States on April 8, 1917. The United States would declare war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire later that year on December 7. Following the First World War and the adoption of President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the tenth of which called for free opportunities for the “autonomous development” of the peoples of Austria-Hungary, an Inter-Allied Military Mission oversaw Hungarian compliance with the Armistice. The American Commission to Negotiate Peace and the U.S. Food Administration sent missions to Hungary in 1919, further deepening relations.
On December 4, 1919, Ulysses Grant-Smith was appointed U.S. Commissioner to Hungary with the mission of reporting on political developments and promoting commerce. At the time, the United States had neither ratified the Treaty of St.-Germain, which recognized Hungary’s independence nor the Treaty of Trianon, which defined Hungary’s postwar boundaries. Therefore, the re-establishment of relations had to await the termination of the state of war, which took place under a Joint Resolution of Congress on July 2, 1921. Hungary’s National Assembly, in turn, accepted the terms of the Joint Resolution on August 12 and authorized the Hungarian Government to negotiate a treaty with the United States.
1921: Establishment of Diplomatic Relations
Following the signature of the postwar treaty re-establishing friendly relations between Hungary and the United States on August 29, 1921, the American Legation in Budapest was established with Commissioner Ulysses Grant-Smith as Chargé d’Affaires pro tempore. Grant-Smith presented his new credentials on January 24, 1922, and served until April 28. Theodore Brentano was appointed as the first U.S. Minister to Hungary on February 10, 1922, and presented his credentials on May 16, 1922, and served until May 6, 1927.
1922: Establishment of Hungarian Legation in the United States
Count László Széchenyi presented his credentials as Hungary’s first Minister to the United States on January 11, 1922. He served until March 31, 1933.
1941: Relations Interrupted
After Germany declared war on the United States, Hungary severed diplomatic relations with the United States on December 11, 1941. A declaration of war followed on December 13. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that Hungary, along with Bulgaria and Romania, had declared war under a state of duress against the will of their peoples. For this reason, Congress did not approve a resolution declaring that as a state of war until June 5, 1942. U.S. Minister Herbert Claiborne Pell left Budapest on June 16.
1945: Relations Resumed
On January 20, 1945, the Hungarian Provisional National Government signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in Moscow. An Allied Control Commission was established to oversee compliance. The U.S. military representative to the Commission arrived in Hungary on February 18. President Roosevelt also designated H. F. Arthur Schoenfeld as U.S. Representative in Hungary with the personal rank of Minister. Schoenfeld arrived in Budapest on May 11 and established a US Mission there. On September 22, 1945, Schoenfeld delivered a note stating that the United States was ready to establish diplomatic relations with Hungary assuming the Provisional Government was ready to take measures that would make free elections possible. The Provisional Government replied affirmatively on September 25, and Schoenfeld was appointed as U.S. Minister to Hungary on December 15, 1945. He presented his credentials on January 26, 1946, and served until June 1, 1947. On November 2, 1945, the United States accepted the appointment of Aladar de Szegedy-Maszak as Hungary’s Minister to the United States. He presented his credentials on January 18, 1946, and served until July 11, 1947.
1956: Revolution and Fight for Freedom
In October of 1956 Hungarian citizens led a populist revolt against persistent Soviet control and domination. On October 24, 1956. The U.S. Minister Edward T. Wailes arrived in Budapest on November 2, but could not present his credentials before the Soviet Union began to suppress the Revolution on November 4. On January 22, 1957, the Hungarian Government requested Wailes’ recall, claiming that he had been conducting official activities without having presented his credentials. Wailes left Budapest on February 27. From then until 1967, the United States was represented in Hungary by Chargés d’Affaires.
1966: Elevation of American Legation to Embassy Status
On November 28, 1966, the United States raised its Legations in Bulgaria and Hungary to Embassy status. Martin J. Hillenbrand was appointed as the first U.S. Ambassador to Hungary on September 13, 1967. He presented his credentials on October 30 and served until February 15, 1969. Janos Nagy presented his credentials as Hungary’s first Ambassador to the United States on October 7, 1968. He served until June 9, 1971.
1989: The Fall of Communism, and the Democratization
By the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was in the process of undertaking a series of reforms under the banners of Glasnost ("Openness") and Perestroika ("Restructuring"). Hungary was suffering from severe inflation, a massive foreign debt, and widespread poverty. Conditions deteriorated until the fall of János Kádár from power in the spring of 1988.
With popular opinion against Communism, in 1988 Hungary removed the barbed wire fence on the border with Austria and began to loosen travel restrictions to the West. However, the first free parliamentary elections would not be held until two years later in May of 1990. The Democratic Forum (MDF) won 43% of the vote while the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) captured 24%. The revitalized communist party performed poorly.
In 1989, President Bush met with Hungarian officials in Budapest and announced plans to open a Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund to promote broader cultural and educational exchanges. He also established a Peace Corps program to teach English in Hungary and orchestrated the opening of “American corners” in Pécs, Veszprém, and Debrecen. These partnerships between the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section and host institutions continue to provide access to current and reliable information about the United States to the general public.
In a symbolic attempt to come to terms with one of the darker pages of recent Hungarian history, President Árpád Göncz attended the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, in 1993.
NATO, EU and Beyond
Between 1989 and 1993, the United States provided more than $136 million in support for economic restructuring and private-sector development to Hungary via the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act. This successful political and economic transformation of Hungary, in turn, culminated with Hungary's formal accession to NATO in April 1999 when it became a formal ally of the United States. This move continues to receive consistent support from the nearly 1.5 million active Hungarian-American community.
On May 1, 2004, Hungary officially joined the European Union. When Hungary took on the rotating position of President of the Council of Europe in the first half of 2011, it also prioritized and spearheaded increased Transatlantic cooperation with the United States.