U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower Early Life and Physical Description

About the U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, early life and career before the presidency, history and biography, physical description.

34th President


On the Way to the White House: In June, 1942, the army passed over scores of better-known and higher-ranking officers to name Eisenhower commanding general of the European Theater of Operations. The American people were surprised by the appointment; they had heard of Eisenhower--if at all--only as one of the army's "technical experts." No one had ever suggested that the new commander was a military genius. But he was a competent, reliable officer, with a mild personality and a knack for bringing disparate elements together as parts of a team--exactly the traits which were needed for the European job. In 1944, as Supreme Allied Commander at D-Day, Eisenhower commanded 3 million men representing more than a dozen nations--the largest army in the history of warfare. When that army succeeded in conquering Germany, the Allied "chairman of the board" naturally emerged as a world hero of unprecedented popularity. Returning home in 1947, Eisenhower accepted appointment as president of Columbia University--where he took a special interest in the progress of the football team--and this position only enhanced his national prestige. In the Democratic party, in 1948, there was a strong movement to nominate Ike for the presidency, but the general declared himself unavailable in a famous statement: "It is my conviction that the necessary and wise subordination of the military to the civil power will best be sustained ... when lifelong professional soldiers, in the absence of some overriding reasons, abstain from seeking high political office." Four years later, Eisenhower had found those "over-riding reasons." He was deeply troubled by the continuing war in Korea, and Republican leaders had persuaded him that only with his help could the GOP return to the White House and clean up "the mess in Washington." In January, 1952, Eisenhower for the first time told the public that he considered himself a Republican. When asked if he would accept the Republican presidential nomination, the general (then serving as commander of NATO) responded with the immortal words: "My answer is positive, that is, affirmative."

His Person: Eisenhower was 5 ft. 10 1/2 in. tall, but his erect military carriage often made him appear somewhat taller. He weighed 170 lb. By the time he became a public figure he was bald, with a fringe of sandy, graying hair. He had blue eyes and a fair, ruddy complexion (as a boy he had been nicknamed Swede by his friends). Eisenhower was 62 at the time he was elected president, and his health was often a problem during his two terms. On Sept. 23, 1955, Ike gulped down a grilled hamburger with two slices of raw onion after playing 27 holes of golf and awoke that night with a heart attack. His illness caused the sharpest drop in the stock market since the Great Crash. In 1956, just months before his reelection, he was hospitalized again for a blocked intestine, and the next year he suffered a slight stroke. "From that time onward," Eisenhower wrote, "I have frequently experienced difficulty in prompt utterance of the word I seek. Even today, occasionally, I reverse syllables in a long word and at times am compelled to speak slowly and cautiously if I am to enunciate correctly. This is not, I am told, particularly noticeable to anyone else, but it certainly is to me." It certainly was to others, too, though Eisenhower's speech had never been particularly notable for its clarity.

Throughout his career, Eisenhower kept his emotions under tight control. One of his mottoes was Never lose your temper, except intentionally. When someone aggravated him, it was his practice, he said, to "write the name on a piece of paper, put it in my lower desk drawer, and shut the drawer." When the doctors ordered him to stop his four-packs-a-day cigarette habit, he used a similar technique, finding that "the easiest way was just to put it out of my mind." He soon gave up smoking entirely. Eisenhower never wanted subordinates to bother him with minor decisions, and when they did, his temper often flared. He claimed that his heart attack in 1955 was triggered by his being repeatedly interrupted on the golf links by unnecessary calls from the State Dept.

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