Happy birthday, President Dwight D. Eisenhower!
Born 124 years ago today, Eisenhower was a product of Abilene, Kansas, where he spent most of his early years. After working for two years to help pay for his brother’s college education, he won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and went on to an eventful military career, eventually serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II. As commander, he planned and led the greatest amphibious military assault in history when the Allied forces landed at Normandy 70 years ago on June 6, 1944.
After the war, he served as Army Chief of Staff under President Truman, and then later ran for and won the Presidency. During his two terms, Eisenhower launched many key programs and departments including NASA, DARPA, and the Interstate Highway System. However when asked about his illustrious career, he said, “the proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”
I Like Ike’s Birthday
Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas on October 14, 1890. Ike, as the Eisenhower boys were called, was the third of seven sons. Ike’s family moved to Abilene, Kansas, and the years he spent in the town were among the most important of his life.
Ike relished the history of the Wild West and of ancient times. He named Hannibal, Caesar, Pericles, and Socrates as among his boyhood heroes, competing with cowboys and lawmen for his admiration. Ike’s devotion to the study of the past sometimes came at the expense of other homework and chores and once led his mother to lock up his history books as punishment for neglecting his childhood duties.
Eisenhower excelled at sports - baseball and football in particular, but he also boxed, fished, trapped, hunted, camped, and played poker - the latter learned at the hand of an eccentric outdoorsman and adventurer who taught him how to compute percentages and figure odds, invaluable skills for the future military and political leader.
Ike’s poker skills were enhanced by his powers of observation, some of which were recorded in the margins of his school books, where he rated his teachers as “good” or “cross.” Eisenhower continued his habit of writing character assessments throughout his military and political careers. Historians rate his personnel decisions in the Army and politics as among his greatest skills.
Other important character traits emerged in the Abilene years. Ike attended integrated schools, but when some of his football teammates refused to line up opposite a visiting African American player, Eisenhower volunteered for the position, and shook the player’s hand after the game.
To help bring money into the household, Ike baked and sold tamales; grew and sold sweet corn and cucumbers; harvested wheat, picked apples, and hammered out steel grain bins. He joined the Belle Springs Creamery after graduating high school in 1909, toiling as a fireman from 6:00 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week. With his creamery proceeds he supported his brother Edgar through two years of college at the University of Michigan. The plan was for Edgar to work the next two years for Ike’s schooling. Instead Ike won an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and left the creamery and Abilene in 1911.
Dwight David Eisenhower was born the year the US census pronounced the frontier closed and died the year man walked on the moon. In between those milestones he planned and led the greatest amphibious military assault in history and served two terms as President. Yet on reflection of this eventful life he declared: “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”
Happy birthday Ike!
-from the Eisenhower Library
"On September 4, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford walked to this door for her first day of school, utterly alone. She was turned away by people who were afraid of change, instructed by ignorance, hating what they simply could not understand. And America saw her, haunted and taunted for the simple color of skin, and in the image caught a very disturbing glimpse of ourselves."
-President William J. Clinton in his remarks at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation of Central High School. September 25, 1997.
In these photos, President Clinton holds open the doors of Little Rock Central High School for Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine. The picture below shows 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford on the first day that she tried to attend Central High School.
On November 9, 1999, at the White House, President Clinton awarded the Little Rock Nine the Congressional Gold Medal.
Integration Crisis at Little Rock Central High School
During the 1957 integration crisis at Little Rock’s Central High School, emotions were strong across the country. Some people were opposed to President Eisenhower sending Federal troops to make sure that the black students could attend class. Others, like Helen Armstrong of Lincoln Park, Michigan, wrote to say they supported his actions.
-from the Eisenhower Library
President Dwight D. Eisenhower Orders Federal Troops into Little Rock to Insure the Safety of Nine African American Students
Today in history, after state and local authorities failed to uphold the Federal Court orders for integration at Central High School, President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to enforce those orders.
The conflict dated back to the May 17, 1954, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, which stated segregated schools are “inherently unequal.” In September 1957, as a result of that ruling, nine African American students enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Before the school year started, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered the state’s National Guard to surround Central High School to prevent entry of the African American students. The crisis escalated into mob riots, prompting a plea from the Mayor of Little Rock, Woodrow Wilson Mann, for federal assistance in the confrontation.
Eisenhower wrote in his notes from the day: “Troops - not to enforce integration but to prevent opposition by violence” to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Students, soldiers, and newsmen in front of Central High School. Circa September, 1957. Courtesy of the Central High Museum Historical Collections.
President Eisenhower’s special broadcast on the Little Rock situation. September 24, 1957.
Telegram, Woodrow Wilson Mann to President Eisenhower, September 24, 1957.
Handwritten notes by President Eisenhower on decision to send troops to Little Rock, September 1957.
A photo of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Forces, speaking to his second cousin, Sgt. George C. Etherington of Abilene, Kansas. Etherington served with the Chemical Warfare Section of the 2nd Infantry Division in France. July, 1944.
-from the Eisenhower Library
Curious about Presidential History? Ask a Curator!
Do you have questions about Presidential history and artifacts? Tomorrow, the Presidential Libraries of the National Archives will be answering questions live for #AskaCurator Day on Twitter.
Over 600 museums from 40 countries will be participating, including our very own experts on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter. You can also ask curators at the National Archives Exhibits in Washington, D.C.
Museum Objects from the Presidential Libraries:
Rocking Chair used by John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office; RCA Radio Microphone used by FDR to deliver some of his Fireside Chats from the White House; HMS Resolute Desk replica at the JFK Library; Portrait by Octavio Ocampo presented to President Carter on the occasion of a state dinner honoring José López Portillo, President of Mexico, February 1979; 1957 Inaugural gown of Mamie Eisenhower; WWII POW Diary at the Truman Library;1952 Eisenhower campaign hat.
The 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Paris
This medal of the Ordre de la Libération was presented to Dwight D. Eisenhower by General Charles de Gaulle on May 28, 1945. The order was created by de Gaulle as a medal of extraordinary service on behalf of the French Resistance.
On this day in 1944, French and American forces swept into Paris greeted by cheering crowds. Take look at photos and video from the day at Today’s Document.
-from the Eisenhower Library
Happy Birthday Hawaii!
On August 21, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state to join the United States of America. Hawaii’s journey to becoming a state had started five months prior when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act on March 18, 1959.
This cover is from a brochure compiled by the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii that outlines student support for Hawaiian statehood. It features reasons for statehood from students, staff, and a number of American public figures. It was included as part of a statehood petition sent by University of Hawaii students to Representative Hugh Peterson (D-GA), then chairman of the House Committee on Territories.
The brochure is titled “Hawaii: 49th State” because Alaska had not yet entered the union.
-From the Eisenhower Library