For 50 years, the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) and its successor, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), have conducted epidemiological and genetic studies of the survivors of the atomic bombs and of their children. This research program has provided the primary basis for radiation health standards. Both ABCC (1947-1975) and RERF (1975 to date) have been a joint enterprise of the United States (through the National Academy of Sciences) and of Japan. ABCC began in devastated, occupied Japan. Its mission had to be defined and refined. Early research revealed the urgent need for long term study. In 1946, a Directive of President Truman enjoined the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to develop the program. By 1950, ABCC staff exceeded 1,000, and clinical and genetic studies were underway. Budgetary difficulties and other problems almost forced closure in 1953. In 1955, the Francis Report led to a unified epidemiological study. Much progress was made in the next decade, but changing times required founding of a binational nonprofit organization (RERF) with equal participation by Japan and the United States. New programs have been developed and existing ones have been extended in what is the longest continuing health survey ever undertaken.