“I Like Ike.” These three words comprise one of the most memorable campaign slogans of any United States president. It appeared on everything from the usual campaign props, such as campaign buttons, posters, and badges, but also lollipops, beverage cans, and even cigarette packages. The slogan was also accompanied by a jaunty tune in his televised campaign ads, which in 1952 was quite the novelty for folks at home. These efforts must have worked, as Dwight D. Eisenhower won the 1952 and 1956 elections, defeating Adlai Stevenson II both times, to become the 34th President of the United States. Today, we celebrate the birth of Eisenhower, who was born on October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas.
The third of seven sons, “Little Ike,” as he was known at home, led a distinguished military career. After graduating from West Point, he rose through the ranks of the army, eventually becoming Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces during World War II and Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. When he turned his eye to the United States presidency as the Republican candidate, it was no wonder that many people liked Ike. He not only “commanded the Allied Forces landing in North Africa in November 1942,” but also “was the Supreme Commander of the troops invading France” on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Eisenhower served two terms as president, from 1953-1961.
When looking back on Eisenhower’s presidency, the one accomplishment that appears at the top of most lists is that he kept the United States at peace, even when pressed to use nuclear weapons to stave off the Cold War threats the nation was facing, from the Soviet invasion of Hungary to quell the uprising taking place there to the U-2 spy plane incident to the Korean War. Nevertheless, Eisenhower was able to keep a war-weary country out of battle. Another accomplishment often attributed to Eisenhower was his enactment of several notable laws:
Civil Rights Act of 1957 – The first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, this law sought to uncover discriminatory practices and provide the means to prevent interference with the right to vote.
Civil Rights Act of 1960 – This act, amending the Civil Rights Act of 1957, “was intended to strengthen voting rights and expand the enforcement powers of the Civil Rights Act of 1957” by authorizing court-appointed referees to assist African Americans with registering to vote, voting, and calling for criminal penalties for voting interference.
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 – This law, also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, marked the beginning of the interstate highway system and the largest public works project in the nation’s history.
National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 – Seeking to ensure American leadership in technology, especially in space exploration efforts, Eisenhower signed this law, which created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, a federal agency that is the “global leader in space exploration.”
Another piece of legislation that was enacted during Eisenhower’s term was the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956, which gave the Federal Reserve broader regulatory powers over bank holding companies, which were defined by the act as “any company that held a stake in 25 percent or more of the shares of two or more banks.” When this act was amended in 1970, Title II provided that “dollars…shall bear the likeness of the late President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower, and on the other side thereof a design which is emblematic of the symbolic eagle of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.” Designed by U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro, the Eisenhower Dollar was the first time a portrait of a U.S. President was authorized to appear on a circulating dollar coin.
So much more can be said about the Eisenhower’s accomplishments, as well as his shortcomings, as president. From his humble beginnings working at a creamery in Kansas to leading Operation Overlord to guiding the nation through the Cold War and other foreign affairs, Eisenhower demonstrated honesty, respect, responsibility, perseverance, courage, and cooperation. Even though he may have been a Kansas boy at heart, Texans still claim him as their own and consider him the “pride of Denison.”