On June 2, 1992, Richard J. Stoll, director for the Center for the Study of Institutions and Values and a professor of political science, sent a memo to then Rice University president George Rupp.
In this memo, Stoll suggested that Rice approach Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, to approve the concept and establishment of a "James Baker Institute." Rupp responded favorably to Stoll's memo, and thus the Baker Institute was born.
On March 31, 1993, Baker gave a speech at Rice in which he accepted the university's offer of an institute in his honor. In this speech, titled "Ideas Into Action," he charged the Baker Institute to "draw together statesmen, scholars and students ... and ... build a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action." These founding words were later used as building stones in the external architecture of the building.
Between 1993 and 1994, the Baker Institute was managed by John Rogers, former under-secretary for management at the Department of State. In August 1994, Rice appointed a founding director for the institute: distinguished diplomat Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian.
On Oct. 20, 1994, ground was broken on the Baker Hall building site. Four U.S. presidents participated in the ceremony (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush), setting the bipartisan tone that Baker had mandated from the institute's beginning. This was a major step forward for the institute. As Djerejian noted, "The building itself symbolizes, in both form and function, the integrative nature of the Baker Institute. Within its walls the faculty and students of Rice University will interact with visiting scholars and practitioners to address the major issues our nation faces in the future."
Stoll was selected as the first associate director for academic programs in 1995. In January 2001, he resigned from that position to take on more responsibility as Rice's associate dean of social sciences. The current director of academic affairs is Allen Matusow.
In October 2003, the Baker Institute celebrated its 10th anniversary with a gala on Jamail Plaza. The gala featured Vice President Richard Cheney as the guest of honor.
In 2005, the institute celebrated Secretary Baker's 75th birthday year with a gala that raised more than $4.5 million to support ongoing public policy research. Tributes to Baker were given by former President George H.W. Bush, Ambassador Djerejian, longtime friend and event chair Mrs. Ford Hubbard, Jr., and members of the Baker family.