Founded on October 19, 1939 by an executive order of French president Albert Lebrun, the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) came into being in a world sunk in darkness.
Six weeks earlier, Nazi Germany had invaded Poland.
Within days, the United Kingdom and France had declared war. In this context, the Centre was given the mission of organising scientific mobilisation throughout the country. An editor of the daily newspaper Paris-Midi even ventured a comparison between the launch of the CNRS and the mustering of a new regiment. The analogy was rather hasty — in fact, while the wartime circumstances played a part in its founding, the CNRS was not created ex nihilo. It was the outcome of a long series of reflections and reforms in the organisation of research, dating back at least to the formation of the French Académie des Sciences in 1666.