Texas History Minute - Ike
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a man who rose to great heights, but he was always a man of modesty. Like so many figures who excelled in America, his rise was to prominence was far from certain, but a background of faith, hard work, and education pushed the odds in his favor. Though his time in Texas was short, his impact on the world was profound.
He was born on October 14, 1890, in Denison. His given name was David Dwight Eisenhower, after his father. However, the name was later switched to Dwight David Eisenhower, reportedly to avoid confusion over having two Davids in the family. Reports conflict whether it was his idea or his mother’s insistence.
He was the third of seven boys. His father, David Eisenhower, attend Lane University to study engineering and later opened a general store in the tiny farming community of Hope, Kansas. However, the business failed within three years because of the financial crises crippling farmers at the time, forcing the Eisenhowers to move. In 1889, his father found work in Denison as an engine wiper for the Cotton Belt Railroad for $10 per week.
The growing family scraped by, but faith and education were a must in the Eisenhower household. The future president’s grandfather had been a preacher, and his father insisted on daily prayers and Bible readings. His mother, Ida, was a devout and determined woman whose family had escaped the violence of Civil War Virginia and became a pacifist as a result. She had even attended college, where she met her future husband.
Though he became beloved by the nation as “Ike,” Eisenhower was one of several “Ikes” growing up. His oldest brother, Edgar, was called “Big Ike,” while the future president was simply “Little Ike.” Though his mother discouraged the use of nicknames, the “Ike” moniker stuck with him the rest of his life.
After the hard years in Denison, the Eisenhowers moved to Abilene, Kansas, in 1892. Eisenhower’s father picked up work as a mechanic at a creamery, and their fortunes steadily improved.
As a child, Eisenhower was adventurous and athletic, exploring the outdoors and playing sports. He was very competitive with his older brothers, and his mother had once called him her “most troublesome boy.” Interestingly enough, his mother had taught him to cook, which he took to enthusiastically. A younger brother died at the age of four, but the family pushed on, relying on their faith to endure hard times. In fact, the Eisenhowers held Bible classes in their home for many years.
Eisenhower was a star football player at Abilene High School. He had to repeat his freshman year because of a debilitating injury, but he persevered and graduated in 1909. In 1911, he won an appointment to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point. Eisenhower considered it a practical way to get a free education. His mother, however, was disappointed at his choice for a military life, but she did not stand in his way. He graduated in 1915 in a class in which 59 graduates would eventually become generals.
Eisenhower would have a long career of service to the nation. He rose to become Allied Supreme Commander in World War II, helping to secure the Allied victory against the Nazis. After World War II, he became the first Supreme Commander of NATO. In 1952, he became the first native-born Texan elected president, widely supported by state residents. Many schools, parks, and streets across the state are named for him. Today, his birthplace is a state historic landmark in Denison, marking the beginning of what became an extraordinary life.