Eisenhower National Historic Site
Print Version


The 50s are often remembered as a peaceful carefree time in American history.  Elvis gyrated, kids hula-hooped, the economy boomed, suburbs mushroomed, and everybody loved Lucy.

But the decade was also filled with fear and disillusionment.  School children ducked and covered and suburbanites dug bomb shelters.   McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt destroyed innocent lives and the Soviet launching of Sputnik shattered American self esteem.  In Little Rock, white mobs barring nine black children from attending high school irreparably tarnished America’s image as a bastion of freedom.

As 34th president, it was Dwight Eisenhower who steered America through the decade, maintaining a steady course down what he termed “the middle way.”   His proven leadership in times of war, his honesty and optimism, bolstered Americans’ waning confidence in a world beleaguered by the threat of communism and teetering on the brink of nuclear destruction.  He was a career soldier who, knowing all too well the horrors of war, strived to keep the country at peace.  His bald head and steadfast grin was the emblematic image of the era and served as a grandfatherly reassurance that these were the best of times.

For many, President Eisenhower was the personification of 1950s America. He was a symbol of America's power, prestige, and prosperity, a leader who inspired the nation’s confidence.  Ike was well suited to be president during the turbulent Cold War years. 

Eisenhower's leadership as Supreme Commander had earned him the respect and admiration of his countrymen, and powerful Western leaders: Churchill, De Gaulle, Mcmillan, Khrushchev and even Stalin.  Everyone liked Ike.  Yet he was often unfairly dismissed as being an overly passive chief executive, reportedly content to play golf as his secretary of state orchestrated Cold War policy and the country’s economy boomed on its own.

However, during eight years as president, Eisenhower kept America at peace without diminishing its prestige.  He ended the Korean War, demanded and secured a cease fire during the Suez Crisis, and strived to reduce tensions between the US and Soviet Union.  At home, Eisenhower balanced the budget, launched the space program, established the Interstate Highway System, and used Federal troops to enforce school desegregation.


Like other American presidents, Eisenhower was showered with gifts from all over the world.  Two terms in office, good will tours of South America, Europe and Asia, and international fame that preceded the presidency contributed to the large number gifts he received. They were impressive even by presidential standards.

Unlike today’s Chief Executive, Eisenhower faced few legislative restrictions pertaining to the disposition of gifts received from foreign dignitaries.  President Eisenhower turned most gifts over to his future presidential museum in Abilene, Kansas.   But he did keep some noteworthy state gifts, several that can be seen in Gettysburg today.  Many were selected with the Gettysburg farm in mind, including rose bushes from the Chancellor of West Germany, a burro from Generalissimo Franco of Spain, and spruce trees from each of the state Republican parties.


As a soldier, Dwight Eisenhower was reluctant to engage in politics.  After securing the 1952 Republican nomination, he and Vice Presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, waged a vigorous campaign against the Democratic nominee, Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois.  At age 61, Ike took to the rails aboard the Eisenhower Special conducting the last of the great whistle stop campaigns.  During the eight week campaign he traveled over 51,000 miles through 45 states.  He promised Americans a balanced budget, peace in Korea, and a clean-up of the “mess” in Washington.  Most impressive to voters was Eisenhower’s popular image as a likeable, modest war hero and family man, an image too formidable for Stevenson to overcome.

In 1956, Stevenson again challenged Eisenhower for the presidency in the first truly national television campaign.  Because of his heart attack in 1955, Eisenhower wasn’t healthy enough to put in long hours on the campaign trail.  He relied heavily on television.  His TV campaign ranged from White House coffee klatches to a Presidential birthday party hosted by actor Jimmy Stewart.  Ike's television appearances were successful in part due to the guidance of his media consultant, actor Robert Montgomery.  Stevenson never quite mastered the new medium.  The result was a Republican landslide, 457 electoral votes to 73. 

The President had a conservative fashion sense.  It conformed to the generally somber styling of men’s fashion of the 1950s. 

Ike had a large wardrobe.  It included well-tailored flannel suits that he preferred when at work in the White House.  Although the suits varied little, the brown ones attracted the White House staff’s attention. According to the appointment secretary, the President was invariably in a foul mood and best avoided when in brown. 

Ties occasionally added some flair to the President’s work day ensemble.  Their bright colors and extravagant design contrasting with the subdued shades of his suits. Outdoors he always sported a hat, typically a fedora when on the job or traveling. He preferred a ball cap out on the fairway, and a golf cap while fishing in Maine or barbecuing in the back yard. 

Mamie worked at improving her husband’s sense of style throughout their marriage.  She once referred to two of his $150 double breasted suits as “horrid eyesores” and sold them off to the ragman for $10.



Mamie Geneva Doud was born on Nov. 14, 1896 in Boone, Iowa. She grew up in Denver where her father semi-retired a millionaire at the age of 36.  She met Lt. Dwight Eisenhower in San Antonio where her family spent their winters. On marrying her young lieutenant in 1916, she was forced to abandon her pampered existence and adapt to the frugality and transience of army life.  She was a soldier’s wife for over thirty years.

When her husband declared his presidential candidacy in 1952, Mamie was by his side throughout the campaign. She delighted crowds with her effervescence and charm.  Campaign songs were written for her, and buttons and placards proclaimed, “I LIKE IKE, BUT I LOVE MAMIE.”  James Reston of the New York Times estimated that she alone was worth at least 50 electoral votes.

Mamie reveled in her role as First Lady. She took great pride in running the White House and delighted in her role as a fashion icon. It was clear to her though that her most important duty as First Lady was to support her husband. She was fiercely protective of him during his illnesses, strictly regulating his diet and calendar after his 1955 heart attack. Despite her concerns, she backed his decision to run for a second term knowing that he had yet to fulfill many of his presidential goals. 

Her devotion to her husband was best summed up in her own words, “I have but one career, and his name is Ike.”

Personal Interests
1950s America had a First Lady with whom it could truly identify.  Mamie shared the country’s popular interests and middle class values.  She made a home in the White House and at the Gettysburg farm for Ike and her family. 

Mamie watched soap operas, played scrabble, served TV dinners, wore noisy charm bracelets, and enjoyed listening to Lawrence Welk.  She proudly heralded her role as a traditional housewife saying, “Ike runs the country, I turn the pork chops.”

Mamie, however, endured criticism for her apparent lack of interest in championing a cause like Eleanor Roosevelt.  Critics ignored her public support of civil rights, her personal responses to over 1000 letters each month, and her launching of up to five charities a week.

Personal Items
Throughout her eight years as First Lady, Mamie displayed a flair for fashion.  Designers loved her.  She had her own style, making a fashion statement of accessorizing haute couture (high fashion) with dime store jewelry and $9.95 mail order hats.  She was fond of charm bracelets and liked to buy jewelry at the Murphy’s 5&10 in Gettysburg.  Dresses were often purchased at J. C. Penney’s which she referred to as J. C. Pennes (accent over the e) in a mock French accent.  She made the list of ‘Twelve Best Dressed Women’ all eight years as First Lady.

The “Mamie look” typically encompassed a one-piece dress with a full skirt, a stylish Sally Victor hat worn so as not to obscure the trademark bangs, long gloves pulled over dress sleeves, and a mink to top off the entire ensemble.  “As a soldier’s wife, I learned early in life that pride in personal appearance is not a superficial thing,” the First Lady once said. 

Mamie was strongly devoted to her family. Her father, John S. Doud, whom she adored, made millions in the meat packing business.  He moved the family to their permanent home in Denver when Mamie was six. 

There were four daughters. The two youngest were nicknamed Mike and Buster, undoubtedly a reflection of her father’s disappointment in not having a son.  Eleanor, the oldest, died of heart failure in 1912 at the age of 17.  Buster died of a kidney infection at 18 years of age two days before the end of WWI.

A year after marrying Ike in 1916, Mamie gave birth to their first son, Doud Dwight.  Nicknamed Icky, he was a favorite among Ike’s fellow young officers at Camp Meade.  He died in his father’s arms of scarlet fever at three.  John was born the following year.

By the time Ike began served his first term as President, John was married with four children, David, Barbara Ann, Susan, and Mary Jean. They lived down the road from the farm.  The First Lady delighted in having her grandchildren so close.  After her father died in 1951, Mamie’s mother paid extended visits.  She soon became a fixture around the White House and at the farm.

Throughout her eight years as First Lady, Mamie displayed a flair for fashion.  Designers loved her.  She had her own style, making a fashion statement of accessorizing haute couture (high fashion) with dime store jewelry and $9.95 mail order hats. 

Mamie was fond of charm bracelets and liked to buy jewelry at the Murphy’s 5&10 in Gettysburg.  Dresses were often purchased at J. C. Penney’s which she referred to as J. C. Pennes (accent over the e) in a mock French accent.  She made the list of ‘Twelve Best Dressed Women’ all eight years as First Lady.

The “Mamie look” typically encompassed a one-piece dress with a full skirt, a stylish Sally Victor hat worn so as not to obscure the trademark bangs, long gloves pulled over dress sleeves, and a mink to top off the entire ensemble.  “As a soldier’s wife, I learned early in life that pride in personal appearance is not a superficial thing,” the First Lady once said. 

We lived in the White House longer than any place we'd ever lived, except this place... this was home... Mamie Eisenhower

The Eisenhower home retains most of its original furnishings. It offers an intimate glimpse into the life and times of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower.

To the Eisenhowers, the Gettysburg farmhouse they bought in 1950 seemed custom-made for retirement. The house needed work but the large kitchen appealed to Mamie. She explained that Ike loved to cook in his spare time. When remodeling began, they found a decaying 200 year-old log cabin. The house could not be saved. Builders retained some of the original brickwork and features, and built the new house around them.

By March 1955 the house was finished, and the Eisenhowers owned what architect Milton Osborned called a "modified Georgian farmhouse." It had eight bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a stately living room, formal dining room, kitchen and butler's pantry and a glassed-in porch.

Eisenhower maintained a successful cattle enterprise, Eisenhower Farms, for 15 years. As President, he used the farm for personal diplomacy. He invited world leaders to visit the house and cattle barns. It was a welcome respite from formal talks at nearby Camp David.


Soil Conservation
“I shall leave the place better than I found it.”

One of the things that attracted General Eisenhower to the farm was the poor, worn-out condition of the soil. It was a perfect place for Ike to practice his life-long interest in soil conservation.

Growing up in turn of the century Kansas, Eisenhower had witnessed first hand the plight of farmers scraping out a living from depleted soil. Milton, Eisenhower’s youngest brother, had been a high ranking official in the federal Department of Agriculture in the 1930’s. Over many dinners, the two discussed the horrid conditions of the depression era “dustbowl”.

Eisenhower directed Nevins to begin improving the soil on his farm. Adams County agricultural agents and members of the United States Soil Conservation Service became frequent visitors to the farm. Using items such as the core sampler and soil sample bag pictured, the agents collected cross-sections of the soil across the farm fields. The samples were sent to laboratories where the soil was analyzed, and a plan created which directed the amount and type of fertilizer to be applied, if lime needed to be mixed in, and the type of crops best suited for that particular field. Pictured is the crop plan for the farm from 1956-1957. Modern farming techniques were also employed, such as contour plowing to control erosion using the tractor and plow pictured, and crop rotation to avoid depleting the soil of nutrients. Eisenhower believed in producing feed and marketing the livestock that consumed it, rather than selling the grain itself. He said anything leaving the farm left on the hoof.

Cattle Breeding
“The cows practically had rugs to lie on”.

By 1954, Eisenhower and his partners decided to raise purebred Aberdeen Angus cattle for the show circuit.  Farm 2, just south of main farm, became the hub of the new activity, with a spacious show barn erected to shelter the valuable animals.  Many of Ike’s cattle were gifts.  They worked towards producing high quality purebred cattle.

General Nevins kept up the dairy operation throughout 1951 and 1952. The dairy cows purchased from the Reddings did well, but it was soon found they had never been tested for brucellosis, a disease that caused contagious abortion. Prompt testing found the herd infected and six had to be destroyed. From then on, all involved with the Eisenhower farm knew the importance of testing and monitoring cattle health, using many of the items pictured.

Eisenhower and his partners wished to improve the Angus breed overall and worked toward producing high quality pure bred cattle. Their operation received two big boosts in 1956. First, Ankonian 3551, a huge but gentle Angus bull, came to reside on the farm. As principle herd bull, he sired a long line of prizewinning offspring. Second, Bob Hartley joined the farm as herdsman. Hartley was a recent graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a fine eye for cattle and a bright outlook on the new operation.

Breeding pure-bred cattle was much more than just turning a good bull loose in a field with cows. Each animal was studied for its best characteristics and bloodlines were traced back at least 3 generations before determinations were made on particular matches. When the cow was in heat, she would be brought to the breeding shed on Farm 2 and confined in a breeding chute for insemination. Herdsman Bob Hartley used the calendar book pictured to keep track of the breeding records during 1960.

At first, breeding was conducted naturally. Soon artificial insemination was employed. Semen harvested from suitable bulls was stored and transported in small ampules, such as those pictured, before being injected into the waiting cow. The new technology opened up a wider range of prospective matches.

Promising calves were separated from their mothers at four months old and received special attention to prepare them for the show circuit. Kept in sand-floored pens in the show barn, the show cattle were fed a premium feed of hand-mixed grains, cooked barley, sugar beet pulp, molasses, and supplements to encourage growth. A small herd of Holstein dairy cows kept on the farm provided young calves with the opportunity to nurse on high quality milk. Each animal and their pen were kept thoroughly clean, with daily brushing and a weekly bath. In warmer weather, the farm staff sprayed the cattle with cool water and turned them out in the pasture in the evening.

Cattle Fitting and Showing
“Oh, they were all oiled up!”

“Fitting” or readying cattle for the show ring and the critical eyes of the judges was a long and arduous task.  Throughout the year, the hair on the cattle was carefully managed.  Clipping, combing, brushing, curling, and currying out old hair took hours each day.  Show day brought much work to be done in a short time.  Each animal was thoroughly washed, dried, and combed.  A final hoof trim was done before painting the hooves with printer’s ink.  Finally, each animal was rubbed down with special oils to add bloom and luster to the coat.

Farmhands used combs, brushes, hoof trimmer, and cattle dressings to ‘fit’ the cattle. Responding to complaints from his staff, Bob Hartley purchased the “Dairy Vac” to assist in grooming. Not a fan of the technology, he allowed the staff to use it only at show arenas.



When Eisenhower was President, the average American’s standard of living was at an all time high.  The Depression was over.  World War II production had given Americans an adequate income and wartime saving programs had helped the nation and its citizens to accumulate new wealth. 

The G. I. Bill promised veterans new opportunities for a college education and help in purchasing a new home.  New jobs were created to meet the pent-up demand for consumer goods.  By the 1950s the baby boom was underway. Families with children were flocking to the suburbs as thousands of new houses were constructed.

The Eisenhowers’ dream of home ownership came late in life.  Having lived in just about every type of home “except an igloo,” they purchased their first home in 1950.    Like most homes, the Eisenhowers’ home reflected the style and values of its residents. The house also sported all the latest in modern conveniences from the Crosley Shelvador refrigerator with chilled water dispenser on the door, to the dishwasher and plate warmer in the pantry, to the President’s Edison Voicewriter dictation machine on the office desk. All insured that the Eisenhowers had more time at ease.

Casual Living
Thanks to a prosperous economy, the GI bill, and new technology, many Americans in the 50s could afford a more relaxing way of life.  This held true for the Eisenhowers as well.  As new home owners, they unpacked all the objects and furnishings they had collected over the years.  The Eisenhowers enjoyed the casual lifestyle to which 1950s middle class America was fast growing accustomed.

The porch was the center of the Eisenhowers’ life at the farm.  Furnished comfortably, guests and the grandchildren felt at home.  Marathon bridge games were played here. Eisenhower pursued his hobby of oil painting on the porch.  He completed almost 300 paintings in the last 20 years of his life.  Several of Ike's paintings were used to make prints to give as Christmas gifts to White House staff members and friends. 

The post-war years were marked by the introduction of new gadgets and gizmos, all aimed at making life a little easier.  Advertising in newspapers, magazines, or on television prompted Americans to buy these new devices.  The newest kitchen appliances such as dishwashers and plate warmers made life a little easier. Labor saving kitchen gadgets such as the Vegematic, Magna Knife and Sunbeam mixer speeded up food preparation.

A telephone in every room gave added convenience and privacy for conversations.  Through the wonder of plastics, the average American could afford a dazzling array of colors to match the colors and styles of their home decor.  Portable radios too, were made of plastic in all colors.  The Eisenhowers’ telephones and radio reflect some of the popular colors. 

As President and First Lady, Ike and Mamie were the first presidential couple to watch television in the White House. At their Gettysburg home, televisions with remote controls were a part of the Eisenhowers’ everyday life. They watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and enjoyed the antics of a wacky redhead and her bandleader husband on “I Love Lucy.” Eisenhower liked westerns such as "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza." Mamie enjoyed game shows and afternoon soap operas. Both enjoyed Lawrence Welk.

Plastics were also used to make premiums or prizes for cereal boxes, a popular incentive used to sell cereal and other products. Trinkets inspired by popular movie and television characters such as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, or Davy Crockett were among the popular collectibles. Figurines of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower were available as part of the President and First Lady figurine collection.

As President and First Lady, the Eisenhowers often entertained formally at the White House.  State dinners were followed by choral groups such as “Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians.”  The Eisenhowers used their Gettysburg home as an escape from the formality of the White House.  Eisenhower found the informal atmosphere conducive for one-to-one conversations with visiting world leaders as he “took the measure of the man.” 

Family and friends were also regular guests at Gettysburg.  A typical visit for dinner would begin with cocktails, as mixed drinks made with hard liquor were popular with Americans in the 1950s.  The Eisenhowers had cocktail shakers, ice buckets and highball glasses to mix and serve drinks.  Ike enjoyed scotch whiskey while Mamie drank a Manhattan. Beer and wine was also served on occasion.

On special occasions dinner was served in the dining room, but if just a few friends were present dinner was often served on television trays on the porch.  Meals were standard American fare and prepared by Delores Moaney, the cook.  Eisenhower also enjoyed cooking, a skill he learned as a boy.   He was well known for his beef stew, Pennsylvania Dutch style breakfasts and skill on the barbecue.

After dinner, guests might enjoy a cigarette with coffee or while visiting on the porch. The hazards of smoking were not yet well known and both Eisenhowers smoked as did many Americans. Eisenhower smoked four packs of Camels a day throughout World War II but in 1948 he quit smoking “cold turkey.” Mamie smoked Phillip Morris cigarettes. As good hosts they had smoking accessories around the house for their guests to use. 

The Eisenhowers traditionally celebrated the holidays with friends and family. They often spent New Year’s Eve on the porch watching Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians on television live from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. 

Ike Outdoors
Eisenhower always enjoyed sports and the outdoors.  At a 1958 press conference he said, “…there are three that I like all for the same reason, golf, fishing, and shooting, and I do because first, they take you into the fields.  There is mild exercise, the kind that an older individual probably should have.  And on top of it, it induces you to take at any one time 2 or 3 hours…where you are thinking of the bird or that ball or the wily trout.”

The Gettysburg farm allowed him to pursue his love of the outdoors, whether walking the farm fields or checking his Angus cattle.  Ike hunted pheasant and quail in the fields.  He honed his shooting skills at his skeet and trap range, regularly breaking 20 out of 25 clay birds.  A fly fisherman, Ike often traveled from Gettysburg to a trout stream at nearby Camp David to pursue his hobby. He met his five brothers in Wisconsin for an annual fishing trip.

As President, Eisenhower popularized the game of golf.  Whether practicing his skills on the putting greens at his farm or the White House, or playing a round at the Gettysburg Country Club, Burning Tree or Augusta National, Eisenhower thoroughly enjoyed the game.  He played golf several times a week if his schedule permitted it.  Like so many of Eisenhower’s leisure pursuits, golf gave him a chance to relax, even as he considered pressing problems.

Eisenhower was also an excellent student of the Battle of Gettysburg and enjoyed walking the battlefield.  According to Mamie he knew “every rock out there.”  As president, Ike gave battlefield tours to visiting world leaders and World War II associates, as well as family and friends.  In retirement Eisenhower delivered the address for the ceremonies commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.