Our History

Our History

NIB’s history dates to the early 1930s when leaders in the blindness community urged Congress to open the federal government market to nonprofit organizations employing people who are blind. The law, known as the Wagner-O’Day Act, was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 25, 1938, and required federal government agencies to purchase certain products manufactured by people who are blind. NIB was incorporated in the state of New York on August 10, 1938, to serve as the central nonprofit agency responsible for allocating government orders.

In its early years of operation, NIB and its 36 associated nonprofit agencies employed approximately 150 people who were blind who manufactured products such as mops, brooms, and pillowcases in support of the U.S. military during World War II. Today, NIB works with more than 100 associated nonprofit agencies across the county and employs more than 5,000 people who are blind who produce thousands of different products and deliver a range of professional services to government and commercial customers. NIB focuses not only on creating jobs, but on developing careers through challenging, knowledge-based positions in high-energy, quality work environments.

‘Empowering People’

To learn more about NIB’s history, download the book, “Empowering People: The Story of National Industries for the Blind and its Associated Agencies.”

Audio versions of individual chapters are available here. To request a single file, please email communications@nib.org.

The timeline below highlights key events and milestones in NIB’s history.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Wagner-O’Day Act, NIB is incorporated, and the Committee on Purchases of Blind-Made Products is established.


NIB expands services to associated agencies to include product development and distribution and serving as liaison with government agencies.


The Bureau of Federal Supply is transferred from the Treasury Department to the newly established General Services Administration (GSA).


NIB launches SKILCRAFT®, the brand name for quality consumer products made by people who are blind.


NIB opens an office in Washington, D.C., to better serve federal customers.


NIB establishes a rehabilitation services division to increase skills and abilities of people who are blind.


Legislation sponsored by Senator Jacob K. Javits adds the purchase of services and includes agencies serving people with other severe disabilities to the original Wagner-O’Day Act, which is renamed the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act. The Committee on Purchases of Blind-Made Products is renamed the Committee for Purchase of Products and Services of the Blind and Other Severely Handicapped, and the program is named the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Program.


NIB establishes its first financial assistance program for associated agencies and creates a subcontract department to assist associated agencies.


NIB forms legislative affairs and public relations departments to develop a greater presence in government and public affairs.


NIB establishes a compliance department to help associated agencies comply with legal and regulatory requirements.


NIB constructs a new technical center to provide advanced laboratory facilities, production line testing, rehabilitation engineering and training capabilities.


NIB associated agencies take on new service contracts in warehousing and distribution, customer service, order entry, invoicing, data entry and database management.


NIB launches the Business Leaders Program to enhance options for people who are blind in careers offering greater upward mobility.


The Committee for Purchase changes the name from the JWOD Program to the AbilityOne Program.


NIB launches the Contract Management Support (CMS) to meet a federal government need for contract specialists.


NIB is named one of the “Best Places to Work in Virginia” by Virginia Business magazine and Best Companies Group.


NIB is again named one of the “Best Places to Work in Virginia”.


NIB celebrates its 75th anniversary and is named one of the nation’s best nonprofits for which to work by The NonProfit Times.


NIB purchases land in Alexandria, Virginia, to construct its new corporate headquarters.