The journal is published by the Council on Foreign Relations, a private sector group established in New York City in 1920 with the goal of keeping the United States involved in world affairs even as the government turned to isolationism. The group, mostly comprised of academics, published a quarterly publication, and this became Foreign Affairs.
Archibald Cary Coolidge of Harvard University was the journal's first editor. As he was unwilling to move to New York, Hamilton Fish Armstrong of the Evening Post was appointed as a co-editor. He established many of patterns that continue to this day. This includes choosing the light blue color for the cover.
The journal rose to its greatest prominence after World War II when foreign relations became central to United States politics, and the United States became a powerful actor on the global scene. Several extremely important articles were published in Foreign Affairs, including the reworking of George F. Kennan's "Long Telegram", which first publicized the doctrine of containment that would form the basis of American Cold War policy.
Eleven different Secretaries of State have written essays in Foreign Affairs, and today its articles are still considered to be an important indicator of the line of thinking in the United States Department of State.