Why Study President Eisenhower?

Introduce learners to the president who was revered for his military service, political moderation, and national improvements.

By Donna Iadipaolo

Eisenhower stamp

“I like Ike” was the motto that swept the United States in 1953 when Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency by a landslide. This popular president led the United States from 1953 to 1961. Historically, many look back to him as a great leader in World War II, and a unifying, politically-moderate president who worked for the good of the United States as a whole. Take some time to delve into the diverse, interesting life of a man still considered to be one of the United States' best presidents.

World War II, The Supreme Commander

In no way could Ike ever be remembered as a chicken hawk (one who personally avoids participation in battle, but actively supports sending other people to war). In fact, he served in World War I by training troops in the United States. He rose up the ranks of the U.S. military, until eventually, he became a five-star general. His duties led him to work on the planning and supervising of the invasion of North Africa, as well as the invasions of France and Germany. During this time, he was given the position of Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. Prior to the invasion at Normandy, Ike motivated his troops with this now-famous speech:

“The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on the fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world....We will accept nothing less than full victory!” This invasion was the start of the march across Europe, which ended with the defeat of Hitler and the surrender of the Axis nations.

A Unifying Moderate

Pupils might also examine how Eisenhower worked to unify the country politically. It is not widely known that both Democrats and Republicans had courted him as a presidential candidate. Ike was liked and respected by people from both parties. He was also known to stand up against the far-right wing elements of his own party. After the turmoil of two world wars, the nation embraced the man who they perceived as being both stablizing and moderate. 

With regard to civil rights, Eisenhower was seen by his contemporaries as a moderate, but in reality, he acted on his belief that there "should be no second-class citizens in this country." He was the president who sent the National Guard to Arkansas to escort nine African-American students as they entered Little Rock Central High School, as ordered by the Brown decision. He was known to repeat that he did not want the country to take a "single backward step" where integration and civil rights were concerned. 

A President Dedicated to Improving the United States

Did you know that the nation's interstate highway system is part of Eisenhower's legacy? Recognizing the need for a system of roads that would allow vehicles to move quickly and easily between cities, Eisenhower authorized the interstate highway system in 1956. He felt strongly that the country needed these roads in order to faciliate movement military vehicles in times of war, efficient evacuation of cities, and smoother movement of goods which would help the country's economy. Show your class a map of the highway system in 1930 as compared to the interstate system now. They can plot out how the different routes between two major cities using each map. Also, the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration has a great interactive link that shows the progression of the nation's highways from 1950 to the interstate system of 2000.

The rights of the individual were championed by Eisenhower. He is credited with the end of McCarthyism, standing against communism, and championing the rights of the union laborer. He believed that it was wrong to "deprive working men and working women their right to join the union of their choice." In addition, he supported many government social programs. As an extension, ask learners to research a union or social program that was supported by Eisenhower. Have them write a paper tracing the program/union's progression from then until now.

Ike's Farewell Address

Eisenhower's Farewell Address is fascinating because it raises profound questions that are still relevant today. If you are teaching older students, discuss (or have them research) Eisenhower's thoughts on democracy, government spending, and the military-industrial complex. Use his observations as a springboard for learners to assess those same situations today, and explore some of the many ideas this comparison will raise. Ike was an influential leader in a tumultous time, this article barely touches on the many ways you can incorporate his career and presidency into your curriculum. Below are a few more resources, but in reality, you could spend much of your school year and still not have touched on all of the reasons that most citizens proclaimed, "I Like Ike!"


D-Day Orders
Pupils read primary source documents from Eisenhower during World War II. They discover his personality and determine how he was successful during the D-Day operations. They write their own example for motivating others.

Eisenhower: The Cold War
Young scholars discuss and review the key events of the Cold War during Eisenhower's presidency. After the review, they conduct research in order to prepare for staging a presidential news conference that could have taken place at that time.

Eisenhower: The Contentious 1950's
Learners participate in a role-playing activity where they assume the roles of families in the 1950s. The group members work together to identify a topic of the 1950s that would be discussed around the dinner table. They research their topic using both print and non-print resources as well as conduct interviews with family members who remember the time period. Groups stage their dinner conversation in front of the rest of the class.

President Dwight Eisenhower
Pupils read a two-page article on President Eisenhower, answer five questions with multiple-choice answers and five short-answer questions.