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THE PRESIDENTS of the United States
Biographical Sketches

Thity-Fourth President • 1953-61
Dwight Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower

A popular military hero of World War II who had enjoyed a distinguished Army career, Eisenhower demonstrated strong leadership and administrative abilities during his two terms. He negotiated an armistice in Korea, furthered international disarmament, reduced Cold War tensions, and inaugurated the U.S. space program. His domestic program of "Dynamic Conservatism" or "Modern Republicanism" emphasized governmental economy and decentralization of Federal projects through cooperation with State and local governments as well as private enterprise.

Dwight David Eisenhower was born in 1890 at Denison, Tex. The next year, his family, in which he was the third of seven sons moved to Abilene, Kans. There, his father worked as a mechanic in a creamery. The youth's pacifistic and devout parents provided him with strong religious training, but he received a public education. In high school, from which he graduated at the age of 19, he was an average student, and played football and baseball.

For the next 3 years, Eisenhower worked in the creamery with his father. Encouraged by a friend, he applied for admittance to both military academies, but the Navy rejected him for being barely overage. In 1911 he accepted a nomination to West Point, where he excelled academically and played on the football team until he broke his knee. He graduated in 1915 among the top third of his class.

Mamie Eisenhower
Mamie Eisenhower

While posted as a second lieutenant at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Tex., Eisenhower met Mary G. ("Mamie") Doud of Denver. They married in 1916. She was to bear two sons, the first of whom died as an infant.

Eisenhower remained in the United States during World War I, and established as well as commanded the tank training center at Camp Colt, Gettysburg, Pa. During peacetime, he gained a reputation for his staff and planning work and held a series of overseas and stateside assignments, including service under Gens. John J. Pershing and Douglas MacArthur. Eisenhower also graduated from the Command and General Staff School and Army War College. In 1941 he bolstered his career when he helped engineer a victory in the Louisiana war games, and achieved the temporary rank of brigadier general.

In 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, Gen. George C. Marshall named Eisenhower as Assistant Chief of Staff. In this position, he earned respect for his strategic and organizational talents. Later the same year, he was chosen to command the European Theater of Operations. His direction of the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy brought him international fame.

In late 1943 Eisenhower was appointed the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Inspiring Allied unity, he led the D-Day invasion of France (June 6, 1944). Late that year, he was awarded the newly created rank of General of the Army. After Germany surrendered, in 1945 Eisenhower returned to the United States to serve as Army Chief of Staff. During the next 3 years, he supervised demobilization and the integration of his branch of the service into the newly formed Department of Defense.

Eisenhower family
David and Ida Eisenhower and their six sons in 1902. Rear, standing: Dwight D., Edgar, Earl, Arthur, and Roy. Middle front: Milton. (Eisenhower Presidential Libary.)

Popularly known by his high school nickname of "Ike" and beloved for his distinctive grin, Eisenhower became a national hero. Publication of his military memoirs, Crusade in Europe (1948), added to his public recognition. That same year, discouraging Presidential draft movements by both major parties, he left the Army and took over the presidency of Columbia University. Upon President Truman's request, late in 1950 he took a leave of absence and returned to active duty to command the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which had been formed the year before.

In 1952, after deciding to cast his lot with the Republicans, Eisenhower returned to the United States and won nomination on the first ballot. His running mate was Richard M. Nixon. Winning the first national G.O.P. victory in 24 years, Eisenhower easily defeated Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson. Four years later, though in the interim Eisenhower had suffered a heart attack and an ileitis operation, he beat Stevenson by an even wider margin. Late in 1957, Eisenhower was temporarily hospitalized with a mild stroke.

Eisenhower labeled his domestic program as "Dynamic Conservatism" or "Modern Republicanism." Working with majority Democratic Congresses except for the first 2 years, he emphasized a balanced budget, but favored expansion of social-welfare legislation while also encouraging the decentralization of Federal projects through cooperation with business and State and local governments.

Eisenhower signed bills that broadened Social Security coverage and increased the minimum wage; oversaw an agreement with Canada to construct the St. Lawrence Seaway, completed in 1959; supported Federal aid for local health assistance, school construction, and educational programs, particularly in science; pushed the massive funding of a new system of interstate highways; established a "soil bank," which paid farmers to withdraw lands from production in the interest of maintaining food prices and conserving agricultural resources; distributed farm surpluses at home and abroad in the form of school lunches and foreign aid, hailed a labor-relations act that required management and union leaders to report dealings affecting the public and rank-and-file workers; and took various steps to relieve the recessions of 1954 and 1957-58.

On the other hand, Eisenhower sought to minimize Government activity. His administration lowered individual and corporate taxes, abolished the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, stressed reduction of the national budget, rejected proposals for public utility dam projects, and welcomed the admittance of Alaska and Hawaii as States.

After the school desegregation decision of the Supreme Court in 1954, Eisenhower enforced specific judicial orders in this field, notably in Little Rock, Ark. He deployed Federal troops there in 1957 to insure enrollment of blacks at a local high school. That same year, he approved formation of a Civil Rights Commission as part of the first significant Federal legislation in this area in more than eight decades. In 1960 he sponsored another bill providing voting registration protection for blacks. Finally, he furthered the elimination of segregation in the Armed Forces.

Eisenhower and Churchill
Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1944. (United States Army.)

Foreign affairs, which were administered by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles until 1959, attracted most of Eisenhower's attention. While maintaining a strong defensive military posture, he sought to mitigate Cold War tensions. In 1953, fulfilling a campaign promise, he concluded an armistice ending the Korean conflict. The following year, the United States joined the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), a collective security arrangement among anti-Communist governments.

Stalin's death in 1953 and Eisenhower's initiatives led to a gradual easing of East-West tensions. The new Russian leaders agreed with the three other occupying powers (France, Great Britain, and the United States) to a treaty creating an independent Austria, and spoke of "peaceful co-existence" between capitalism and Communism. Because of growing United States and Russian nuclear capability, the search for peace became ever more urgent.

Throughout Eisenhower's tenure, he tried to obtain Soviet agreement to limit nuclear arms and halt their testing. In 1953 he proposed to the United Nations "Atoms for Peace," a program for the peaceful use of atomic energy in developing countries. This proposal eventually led to creation of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Eisenhower met in 1955 with French, British, and Russian heads of state in a summit conference at Geneva, Switzerland—the first since Potsdam. Although the Soviets rejected his "Open Skies" disarmament proposal for the interchange of military installation blueprints and mutual rights of aerial reconnaissance and inspection, the conference briefly relaxed relations between Russia and the Free World.

The "spirit of Geneva" soon evaporated, however. In 1956 the Russians put down a revolt in Hungary, and the United States offered the refugees asylum. In the fall of 1957, the Soviets launched the first earth satellite. In response, Eisenhower created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (1958), expanded U.S. military might, and increased foreign aid.

Meanwhile, late in 1956, Eisenhower had joined the Soviet Union and the United Nations in criticizing the joint French, British, and Israeli attack on Egypt to force it to reopen the Suez Canal. The next year, he promulgated the "Eisenhower Doctrine," which committed the United States to help Middle Eastern countries resist Communism. Under this doctrine, in 1958 U.S. forces briefly intervened in Lebanon at the request of its President. That same year, Eisenhower, fulfilling a 1954 commitment to Nationalist China, backed her resistance to Chinese Communist bombardment of the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu.


Eisenhower National Historic Site

Seeking further detente through personal diplomacy, Eisenhower invited Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev to tour the United States. During his visit (1959), Eisenhower discussed various issues with him at Camp David, Md.

But international hostility resumed in many parts of the world. In 1960, after an American U-2 reconnaissance jet was shot down inside Russia, Khrushchev abruptly ended a Paris summit meeting and cancelled Eisenhower's planned trip to his country. That same year, grave tensions arose on three continents. Conflict between political factions in Laos flared up; in the Congo (present Zaire) secessionist and revolutionary elements emerged just after independence was achieved; and disagreements between the United States and Cuba, which allied more and more closely with the Soviet bloc, led to a rupture in diplomatic relations.

Out of office in 1961 and in retirement at his Gettysburg farm, Eisenhower advised his successors, wrote his memoirs, and handled private business matters. He died in 1969 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, D.C. His widow (now deceased) and son, John S., survived him.

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Last Updated: 04-Feb-2004