Today in History – October 9, 1957 – Neil H. McElroy (Procter & Gamble director) becomes US Secretary of Defense

9 October 1957 – Procter & Gamble director Neil McElroy becomes US Secretary of Defense. (1)  The Soviet Union’s “launching of the world’s first satellite (Sputnik I), raised important questions about the U.S. defense program. This served as a backdrop to the swearing in, on 9 October 1957, of Neil H. McElroy as secretary of defense…

Although a well-known businessman, McElroy’s only experience in the federal government prior to 1957 had been as chairman of the White House Conference on Education in 1955–56. Given his background in industry, and given President Eisenhower’s predominance in defense matters, McElroy’s appointment was not unusual. He spelled out his mandate the day he assumed office: “I conceive the role of the Secretary of Defense to be that of captain of President Eisenhower’s defense team…”(2)

“Because of his experience in advertising, McElroy was aware of the harm that Soviet space supremacy could have on U.S. morale. McElroy tried to calm public fears by insisting that Sputnik did not prove that there was a missile gap, an advantage that the Soviets had in long-range missiles that could hit targets on U.S. soil. His assurances, however, did not persuade Congress, which created a new agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to make sure that the country could overcome the Soviet advantage in the space race.”(3)

“When McElroy acceded to Eisenhower’s request in 1957 that he become secretary of defense, he limited his availability to about two years. Although there was criticism that the secretary was leaving just as he had learned the job, McElroy confirmed early in 1959 that he would resign before the end of the year.”(2)


(1) Source: Historical Events on October 5 – On This Day 


(2) UVA Miller Center

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