The original conference was held at the Hotel de Bilderberg, near Arnhem in the Netherlands, from 29 May to 31 May 1954. It was initiated by several people, including Polish politician Józef Retinger who approached Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands who agreed to promote the idea, together with former Belgian Prime Minister Paul Van Zeeland, and the head of Unilever at that time, Dutchman Paul Rijkens. Bernhard in turn contacted Walter Bedell Smith, then head of the CIA, who asked Eisenhower adviser Charles Douglas Jackson to deal with the suggestion. A permanent Steering Committee was established, with Retinger appointed as permanent secretary.

Chairmen of the Steering Committee:

  • Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld (1954–1975)
  • Walter Scheel (1975–1977)
  • Alec Douglas-Home (1977–1980)
  • Eric Roll, Baron Roll of Ipsden (1986–1989)
  • Peter Carington, 6th Baron Carrington (1990–1998)
  • Étienne Davignon (1998-2001)
  • Henri de Castries (since 2001)
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