Study Guide

The 1950s People

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower

    Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) was the son of pacifist Mennonite parents, but he chose to study war as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was spotted as a promising officer and sent to Command and General Staff School, the military equivalent of graduate school, where he graduated first in his class of 275. 

    Though he'd never seen combat, Eisenhower was chosen to lead American forces in North Africa and Italy during World War II, and then to plan and command the pivotal invasion of Normandy in 1944. He remained as Army Chief of Staff after the war, served two years as the president of Columbia University, and two more as commander of NATO troops in Europe.

    Elected president in 1952, Ike provided a steady hand during a tense time in U.S. foreign policy. He remained immensely popular during and after his two terms in office. Still, historians at first judged him as a weak president, but with time, his stature has grown and he's now frequently—but not always—rated among our best presidents.

  • Richard Nixon

    Richard Nixon (1913–1994) was a Republican congressman from California whom Eisenhower chose as his vice-presidential running mate in 1952. Nixon had developed a reputation as a fierce anticommunist, and with the McCarthy era in full swing, the choice of Nixon shielded Eisenhower from any charge of being soft on communism.

    As vice president, Nixon did little. Because Eisenhower liked to distance himself from politics, he often chose Nixon to fulfill unpleasant political duties, like attacking Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson during both presidential elections. 

    Eisenhower didn't often include Nixon in policy discussions and even tried to push Nixon off the ticket in 1956. Hoping to run eventually for the presidency himself, Nixon refused. 

    When he did run for president in 1960, Eisenhower was asked about the ideas Nixon had contributed to his administration. "If you give me a week, I might think of one," Ike said.blank">John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Nixon in the 1960 election, and he continued to support his former VP in later years. Eisenhower's grandson David married Nixon's daughter Julie in 1969, the same year that Nixon finally did achieve his goal of becoming president.

  • Sherman Adams

    Sherman Adams (1899–1986) was an important political adviser to President Eisenhower. As Governor of New Hampshire, Adams was one of the moderate Eastern Republicans who first urged Ike to run for president.

    When Eisenhower became president, he appointed Adams as his chief of staff. Because the former general ran a tight, structured administration, Adams gained a great deal of power as the person who controlled access to the president. 

    Eisenhower relied on the fiscally frugal Adams to give advice and keep the administration operating smoothly. When Adams was forced to resign in 1958 for accepting questionable gifts, his boss greatly missed him.

  • John Foster Dulles

    John Foster Dulles (1888–1959) was Eisenhower's Secretary of State until April of 1959, when he resigned from office because of illness. (Dulles died a month later.) 

    Dulles was an international lawyer from a politically distinguished family; both his grandfather and his uncle had also served as Secretary of State. He had been involved in diplomacy since World War I and had helped set up the United Nations and NATO at the end of World War II.

    Deeply religious and a fierce anticommunist, Dulles was considered by many to be inflexible and sanctimonious. Even Eisenhower called him an "international prosecuting attorney."blank">Harry Truman, for seeking only the "containment" of communism. He wanted to roll back communist control in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Although he was mostly thwarted in this goal while in office, Dulles brought a hard edge to Eisenhower's foreign policy and pressed for confrontation in many cases where Ike preferred conciliation.

  • Adlai Stevenson

    Adlai Stevenson (1900–1965) ran against Eisenhower for president as the Democratic candidate in both 1952 and 1956.

    The relatively young Illinois governor offered a clear alternative to Ike. Eisenhower was a moderate conservative; Stevenson was a moderate liberal. Eisenhower was a man of common tastes; Stevenson was an intellectual. Eisenhower was not a great orator; Stevenson was an eloquent speaker. 

    Many voters thought Stevenson was too aristocratic and out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people.

    Defeated by Eisenhower in the 1952 presidential election, Stevenson chose to run against his rival once again four years later. However, Eisenhower's strong economic record and tremendous popularity were too much to overcome. Always a respected authority on international affairs, Stevenson later served as a United Nations ambassador under President John F. Kennedy. 

    He became famous for his forceful confrontation with the Soviet representative to the UN Security Council during the tense Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

  • Nikita Khrushchev

    Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) started his career as a faithful follower of the murderous Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. After Stalin's death in 1953, Khrushchev took over as Communist Party Chairman and gradually consolidated his power by pushing aside other Kremlin leaders. 

    In 1956 he denounced Stalin, condemning Stalin's brutalities and crimes against his people (even though Khrushchev himself had been involved in carrying some of them out).

    Khrushchev brought some moderation to the Soviet system and made attempts to diminish the hostility between his country and the United States. He was smart, though uneducated, and was noted for his colorful behavior—he infamously removed his shoe and banged it on the table during a United Nations session and famously boasted to the West, "We will bury you." 

    He was ousted from power in 1964 following his perceived defeat in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • Elvis Presley

    Elvis Presley (1935–1977) was born to a poor family in East Tupelo, Mississippi. When he was a teenager, the Presleys moved to Memphis, where Elvis graduated from high school and took a job as a truck driver. 

    Through his teen years, though he couldn't read sheet music, he played guitar and sang country and hillbilly tunes. He loved music but was entirely self-taught.

    Elvis began attracting attention with his music in 1954, when he was 19. He infused Black rhythm-and-blues songs with his distinctive style, which came to include dance moves that were considered quite sexually suggestive for the time.

    In 1956, "Heartbreak Hotel" became his first number one hit and Elvis suddenly became a national sensation. Crowds of screaming teenagers packed his shows. At the end of 1957, Elvis received his draft notice, serving as an ordinary GI in the U.S. military until 1960.