Dwight Eisenhower on Technology



1957: Anyone want to go to the moon? I don't

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik (Russian for "traveling companion"). Sputnik was a jolt; its passage around the earth--its beep-beep recorded by ham radio enthusiasts--came to a stand for Soviet superiority in rocketry and one could only imagine what else.

The president seemed almost relaxed about the subject; Eisenhower joked during an NSC meeting: "Any of you want to go to the moon? I don't. I'm happier right here."

Eisenhower said [publicly] that he saw nothing "significant in the development as far as security is concerned," while conceding that "it does definitely prove the possession by the Russian scientists of a very powerful thrust in their rocketry, and that is important." He mentioned--and probable shouldn't have--that the US planned to launch its own satellite in December.

Eisenhower was surprisingly uninformed when he talked about space, or rocket technology. The thing itself--the actual Sputnik--seemed to flummox him

Source: Ike and Dick, by Jeffrey Frank, p.157-159 , Nov 5, 2013

1957: Space agency within Department of Defense

Eisenhower said that any new space agency--and it was agreed that America needed a space agency--ought to be established within the Department of Defense. But Nixon favored a separate office for "peaceful" research. Nixon pointed out that if all space projects fell under the auspices of the Defense Department, the military would then have little incentive to pursue anything that didn't have a military purpose.

Eisenhower seemed to bend a little. He noted that the Pentagon would inevitably have to be involved--after all, the military possessed all the hardware--but he did not rule out what he called an eventual "great Department of Space."

When [discussing] that a lunar probe would probably be Russia's next act, Eisenhower said that these space ventures needed a "rule of reason"; they couldn't just pour funds into them "where there was nothing of value to the Nation's security." He added, "I'd rather have a good Redstone than be able to hit the moon" because "we didn't have enemies on the moon!

Source: Ike and Dick, by Jeffrey Frank, p.162 , Nov 5, 2013

Create interstate highway system because free market won't

Keynesianism works in a few very limited circumstances. For instance, when Eisenhower called for the creation of the interstate highway system in the 1950s, there was little doubt the dollars spent on the roads would be worth the investment. Even though businesses large and small would receive an enormous economic benefit from the roads, it was obvious the free market would not create the system on its own. More important, government had the constitutional authority to step in and create the system.
Source: The Debt Bomb, by Sen. Tom Coburn, p.135-6 , Apr 17, 2012

1957: Sputnik ended "Peace and Prosperity" boosterism

In October 1957, the country became suddenly uneasy about the grandfather-like leadership of Dwight Eisenhower. The launching of the Soviet space satellite Sputnik sent an ugly shiver down the spines of complacent citizens long convinced of their country's enduring edge against the Soviet menace. "Artificial satellites will pave the way for space travel," the Soviet news agency Tass explained to the humiliated West. Moscow was justified in its self-assurance. Sputnik was, after all, 9 times the weight of the satellites the US had been trying, with a discouraging lack of success, to launch. If the Communists could beat us in the technology of the future, they might also defeat us ideologically as well. The emerging "third world" might decide to look to Moscow rather than Washington for aid and guidance in their struggle for economic development.

The national mood shifted uneasily from the "Peace and Prosperity" boosterism of the 1950s.

Source: Kennedy & Nixon, by Chris Matthews, p.121 , Jun 3, 1996

Sputnik: Soviets lead in satellites, but US leads overall

"It is my conviction, supported by trusted scientific and military advisers, that, although the Soviets are quite likely ahead in some missile and special areas, and are obviously ahead of us in satellite development, as of today the overall military strength of the Free World is distinctly greater than that of the Communist countries."

But unless we moved further, we could fall behind.

Source: Waging Peace, by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, p.224 , Jan 1, 1965

1958: First satellite only a step; established NASA

On the night of January 31, 1958, the Army was to launch Explorer I, which we hoped would be the US's first orbiting earth satellite. At 12:44 my telephone rang; [I received the report], "It's in orbit. We just received the official word."

"That's wonderful," I replied. "I surely feel a lot better now." But I warned, "Let's not make too great a hullabaloo over this." I did not want this success to result in any boastful pronouncements; primarily it marked a big step, but only a step, in a gigantic undertaking of space exploration.

With the January 31 launching, a long and difficult period had ended. Within the next 8 weeks we made 2 other successful shots: the Navy's Vanguard, launched March 17, and Explorer III, which went into orbit on March 26.

The exploration of outer space, a comprehensive and costly venture, demanded new controlling and operating mechanisms within the government. On April 2, I requested Congress to establish a National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA).

Source: Waging Peace, by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, p.255-257 , Jan 1, 1965

US Information Agency: let all the world know the truth

I was anxious to preserve the appropriation for the US Information Agency, whose sole and essential purpose was to let all the world know the truth and only the truth about our policies, plans, actions, and purposes.

To my associates and me, the Agency was a non-military arm of defense and a voice of our foreign understanding among the peoples of the world. Unfortunately, however, the Agency had never been popular with the Congress.

[For 1957] I had asked for $144 million for the USIA--$31 million more than the year before. The appropriations subcommittee under the chairmanship of Senator Lyndon Johnson sliced that to $90.2 million.

Lyndon Johnson left no doubt about his views: "There is not one scintilla of evidence in the more than 1200 pages of hearings which would justify the assertion by a judicious, prudent man that the $90 million we have recommended will be wisely spent." I was disappointed by this irresponsible diminution of an agency on the front line in the cold war.

Source: Waging Peace, by Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, p.136-138 , Jan 1, 1965

Space exploration need not integrate with defense research

Our effort in space exploration is often mistakenly supposed to be an integral part of defense research and development.
  1. America has made great contributions to the world's fund of knowledge of astrophysics and space science. These discoveries are of present interest chiefly to the scientific community; but they are important foundation-stones for more extensive exploration of outer space.
  2. Our military missile program does not suffer from our present lack of very large rocket engines, which are so necessary in distant space exploration. The thrust of our present missiles is fully adequate for defense requirements.
  3. The US is pressing forward in the development of large rocket engines to place much heavier vehicles into space for exploration purposes.
  4. In the meantime, it is necessary to remember that we have only begun to probe the environment immediately surrounding the earth.
  5. We have just completed a year's experience with our new space law [which needs modification].
    Source: Pres. Eisenhower's 1960 State of the Union message , Jan 7, 1960

    Overcame 1958 recession without hasty public works projects

    The material foundation of our national safety is a strong and expanding economy. This we have--and this we must maintain. Only with such an economy can we be secure and simultaneously provide for the well-being of our people.

    A year ago the nation was experiencing a decline in employment and output. Today that recession is fading into history, and this without gigantic, hastily-improvised public works projects or untimely tax reductions. A healthy and vigorous recovery has been under way since last May. New homes are being built at the highest rate in several years. Retail sales are at peak levels. Personal income is at an all-time high.

    The marked forward thrust of our economy reaffirms our confidence in competitive enterprise. But--clearly--wisdom and prudence in both the public and private sectors of the economy are always necessary.

    Source: Pres. Eisenhower's 1959 State of the Union message , Jan 7, 1959

    National Highway Program to meet economic & security needs

    A modern, efficient highway system is essential to meet the needs of our growing population, our expanding economy, and our national security. We are accelerating our highway improvement program as rapidly as possible. However, this effort will not in itself assure our people of an adequate highway system. On my recommendation, this problem has been carefully considered by the Conference of State Governors and by a special Advisory Committee on a National Highway Program.

    In further recognition of the importance of transportation to our economic strength and security, the Administration is thoroughly examining existing Federal transportation policies to determine their effect on the adequacy of transportation services. This is the first such comprehensive review directly undertaken by the Executive Branch of the government in modern times. We are studying closely the inter-relationships of civilian and government requirements for transportation.

    Source: Pres. Eisenhower's 1955 State of the Union message , Jan 6, 1955

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    Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022