Dwight David Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, the third of seven boys to Ida and David Eisenhower. His mother originally named him David Dwight but reversed the two names after his birth to avoid the confusion of having two Davids in the family. Ida Stover and David Eisenhower met, as students, at Lane University in LeCompton, Kansas, where they married. When Dwight was about eighteen months old, the family moved back to Abilene Kansas. In 1898, six years after returning from Texas, the Eisenhowers and six sons--Paul had died of diphtheria in 1896 at the age of three--moved into the house on Southeast Fourth Street that would become the legendary Eisenhower boyhood home. All of the boys were called "Ike", such as "Big Ike" (Edgar) and "Little Ike" (Dwight); the nickname was intended as an abbreviation of their last name.
Eisenhower attended Abilene High School and graduated with the class of 1909. As a freshman, he injured his knee and developed a leg infection which extended into his groin and which his doctor diagnosed as life threatening; the doctor insisted that the leg be amputated but Dwight refused to allow it, and miraculously recovered, though he had to repeat his freshman year. He and brother Edgar both wanted to attend college, though they lacked the funds. They made a pact to take alternate years at college while the other worked, in order to earn the tuitions. Edgar took the first turn at school, and Dwight was employed as a night supervisor at the Belle Springs Creamery. Edgar asked for a second year, Dwight consented and worked for a second year. At that time, a friend "Swede" Hazlet was applying to the Naval Academy and urged Dwight to apply to the school, since no tuition was required. Eisenhower requested consideration for either Annapolis or West Point with his U.S. Senator, Joseph L. Bristow. Though Eisenhower was among the winners of the entrance exam competition, he was beyond the age limit for the Naval Academy. He then accepted an appointment to West Point in 1911.
At West Point, Eisenhower relished the emphasis on traditions and on sports, but was less enthusiastic about the hazing, though he willingly accepted it as a plebe; he was also a regular violator of the more detailed regulations, and finished school with a less than stellar discipline rating. Academically, Eisenhower's best subject by far was English; otherwise his performance was average, though he thoroughly enjoyed the typical emphasis of engineering on science and mathematics. In athletics, Eisenhower later said that "not making the baseball team at West Point was one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest." He did make the football team, and was a varsity starter as running back and linebacker in 1912, tackling the legendary Jim Thorpe of the Carlisle Indians that year. Eisenhower broke his leg in that, his last, game; it became permanently damaged on horseback and in the boxing ring, so he turned to fencing and gymnastics.
Eisenhower later served as junior varsity football coach and yell leader. Controversy persists over whether Eisenhower played minor league baseball for Junction City in the Central Kansas League the year before he attended West Point, where he played amateur football. He graduated in the middle of the class of 1915, which became known as "the class the stars fell on", because 59 members eventually became general officers. Eisenhower met and fell in love with Mamie Geneva Doud of Boone, Iowa, six years his junior, while he was stationed in Texas. He and her family were also immediately taken with one another. He proposed to her on Valentine's Day in 1916. A November wedding date in Denver was moved up to July 1 due to the pending outbreak of World War I. In their first 35 years of marriage they moved as many times.
After graduating from West Point, Eisenhower experienced several years of professional frustration and disappointment. World War I ended a week before he was scheduled to go to Europe. After peace came, his career went nowhere.
Eisenhower served as a military aide to General John J. Pershing and then to General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. Shortly before the United States entered World War II, Eisenhower earned his first star with a promotion to brigadier general.
After the United States entered the war, Eisenhower went to Washington, D.C., to work as a planning officer. He so impressed the Army's chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, that he quickly got important command assignments. In 1944, he was supreme commander of Operation Overlord, the Allied assault on Nazi-occupied Europe. In only five years, Eisenhower had risen from a lowly lieutenant colonel in the Philippines to commander of the greatest invasion force in history. When he returned home in 1945 to serve as chief of staff of the Army, Eisenhower was a hero, loved and admired by the American public.
Acknowledging Eisenhower's immense popularity, President Harry Truman privately proposed to Eisenhower that they run together on the Democratic ticket in 1948—with Truman as the vice-presidential candidate. Eisenhower refused and instead became president of Columbia University and then, after the outbreak of the Korean War, the first Supreme Commander of NATO forces in Europe. In 1952, he declared that he was a Republican and returned home to win his party's presidential nomination, with Richard M. Nixon as his running mate. "Ike" endeared himself to the American people with his plain talk, charming smile, and sense of confidence. He easily beat Democrat Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and again in 1956.
Negotiating from military strength, he tried to reduce the strains of the Cold War. In 1953, the signing of a truce brought an armed peace along the border of South Korea. The death of Stalin the same year caused shifts in relations with Russia. New Russian leaders consented to a peace treaty neutralizing Austria. Meanwhile, both Russia and the United States had developed hydrogen bombs. With the threat of such destructive force hanging over the world, Eisenhower, with the leaders of the British, French, and Russian governments, met at Geneva in July 1955.
The President proposed that the United States and Russia exchange blueprints of each other's military establishments and "provide within our countries facilities for aerial photography to the other country." The Russians greeted the proposal with silence, but were so cordial throughout the meetings that tensions relaxed.
Suddenly, in September 1955, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack in Denver, Colorado. After seven weeks he left the hospital, and in February 1956 doctors reported his recovery. In November he was elected for his second term.
In domestic policy the President pursued a middle course, continuing most of the New Deal and Fair Deal programs, emphasizing a balanced budget. As desegregation of schools began, he sent troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, to assure compliance with the orders of a Federal court; he also ordered the complete desegregation of the Armed Forces. "There must be no second class citizens in this country," he wrote. Eisenhower concentrated on maintaining world peace. He watched with pleasure the development of his "atoms for peace" program--the loan of American uranium to "have not" nations for peaceful purposes.