Frontiers in History
Ideas from the National Archives for NHD 2001
Resources at the
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
The U-2 Spy Plane Incident
At the height of the "cold war," as critics of the Eisenhower administration
complained about the growing "missile gap," the United States secretly
gathered data on Soviet missile capabilities through photographs obtained
from U-2 reconnaissance plane overflights of the Soviet Union. In May 1960,
plans were finalized for a crucial Paris summit conference between western
nations and leaders of the Soviet Union with disarmament to be the main
focus. Hopes for a successful summit were dashed when on May 1, May Day,
an American U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down
over Soviet air space. On the first day of the Paris summit, Soviet Premier
Nikita Khrushchev stormed out after delivering a condemnation of U.S. spy
activities. Manuscript materials, photographs, and a listing of relevant
collections on this topic are available through the Eisenhower
From July 1957 to December 1958 an international cooperative scientific
program was conducted to study the earth and its environment. This
program was the International Geophysical Year. More than 70 countries
participated in the project which led to the discovery of the Van Allen
radiation belts around planets, the theory of plate tectonics, exploration
of outer space, construction of earth satellites, and increased research
in the Arctic and Antarctic polar regions. IGY was sponsored by the International
Council of Scientific Unions and involved nearly 30,000 scientists.
In a radio and television address on June 30, 1957, President Eisenhower
expressed his belief that "the most important result of the International
Geophysical Year is that demonstration of the ability of peoples of all
nations to work together harmoniously for the common good. I hope
this can become common practice in other fields of human endeavor."
Documentation on this program is found in manuscript collections in the
If an American happened to be gazing at the stars on Friday, October
4, 1957, they may have noticed an object crossing the evening sky.
Radio listeners, too, may have heard a series of "beep, beep, beep" sounds
coming from their radios. A momentous event had occurred in the region
of the Soviet Union known as Kazakhstan-the Soviets had launched an artificial
satellite into orbit around the earth. The satellite named Sputnik,
Russian for "traveling companion," transmitted the beeping sounds as it
followed its orbit around the globe. Rather than celebrating this
momentous scientific feat, Americans reacted with a great deal of fear.
The event came at a period near the end of the McCarthy communist "witch
hunts," a time when school children were involved in "Duck and Cover" air
raid drills, and citizens were encouraged to build their own civil defense
shelters. It was widely believed that if the Soviets could launch
a satellite into space, they probably could launch nuclear missiles capable
of reaching U.S. shores. Documents on the launching of Sputnik, international
reactions and the ensuing U.S. space program are located at the Eisenhower
The 1950s are often considered to be a safe and quiet decade when American
families moved to the suburbs, drove large modern automobiles, and enjoyed
a stable and prosperous economy. But beneath this tranquil scene,
parents faced a great fear-the dreaded poliomyelitis, or polio as it is
commonly known. The disease had killed more than thirteen hundred Americans
(a large percentage were children) and crippled more than eighteen thousand
more in the year 1954 alone. On April 12, 1955, America received
the much-welcomed news that Dr. Jonas Salk had developed a vaccine against
the frightening disease. Immediately, the federal government implemented
a plan to have the vaccine produced by six licensed pharmaceutical companies
and distributed to children throughout the country. Within one year,
the deaths attributed to polio declined by 50 per cent, and this downward
trend continues to the present when polio has been totally eradicated in
most of the world. Documents and photographs, and a list of pertinent
manuscript collections are available at the Eisenhower
After shattering the traditional bottle of champagne across the bow
of the U.S.S. NAUTILUS, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower and others gathered
at the Electric Boat Yard of General Dynamics Corporation in Groton, Connecticut,
on January 21, 1954, watched as the world's first nuclear-powered submarine
slipped into the Thames River. The submarine became the first commissioned
nuclear-power ship in the U.S. Navy on September 30, 1954. The NAUTILUS
went on to log a record number of hours and shatter many records.
The most momentous of her feats was a four-day trip in 1958 when the NAUTILUS
traveled submerged 1830 miles under the Arctic polar ice cap. Photographs
and an official program of the christening ceremony, documentation on the
1958 mission, and a list of pertinent collections on the "nuclear navy"
are available at the Eisenhower
The D-Day operation of June 6, 1944, brought together the land, air, and
sea forces of the allied armies in what became known as the largest invasion
force in human history. The operation, given the codename OVERLORD,
delivered five naval assault divisions to the beaches of Normandy, France.
The beaches were given the codenames UTAH, OMAHA, GOLD, JUNO and SWORD.
The invasion force included 7,000 ships and landing craft manned by more than
195,000 naval personnel from eight allied countries. Almost 133,000
troops from England, Canada, and the United States landed on D-Day.
Casualties from the three countries during the landing numbered 10,300.
By June 30th, more than 850,000 men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies
had landed on the Normandy shores. Fighting by the brave soldiers, sailors,
and airmen of the allied forces Eastern Front and Russian forces on the
Western Front led to the defeat of German Nazi forces. On May 7,
1945, German General Alfred Jodl signed an unconditional surrender at Reims,
France. Documents, photographs, and a listing of collections on this
subject are available through the Eisenhower
In the summer of 1919, a young Lieutenant Colonel named Dwight D. Eisenhower
participated in the first Army transcontinental motor convoy. The
expedition consisted of eighty-one motorized Army vehicles that crossed
the United States from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, a venture covering
a distance of 3,251 miles in 62 days. The expedition was manned by
24 officers and 258 enlisted men. The convoy was to test the mobility
of the military during wartime conditions. As an observer for the
War Department, Lt. Col. Eisenhower learned first-hand of the difficulties
faced in travelling great distances on roads that were impassable, and
that resulted in frequent breakdowns of the military vehicles. These
early experiences influenced his later decisions concerning the building
of the interstate highway system during his presidential administration.
For documents and photographs concerning the 1919 Convoy, please contact
the Eisenhower Library.
Persons travelling through the United States today may find it difficult
to imagine our country without the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.
It was not until June 29, 1956, when President Eisenhower signed the Federal
Aid Highway Act, that interstate highways began to meet the challenge
of the growing number of automobiles on the nation's highways. While
in Europe during World War II, then-General Eisenhower viewed the ease
of travel on the German autobahns. That, coupled with the experiences
of a young Lt. Col. Eisenhower in the 1919 Transcontinental Convoy, convinced
the President of the overwhelming need for safer and speedier highways.
The President also felt that the newer, multi-lane highways were essential
to a strong national defense. Copies of documents and a listing
of relevant collections on this topic are available at the Eisenhower
Though the idea for the St. Lawrence Seaway dates back to the late 1800s, it was not until May 13, 1954, when the Wiley-Dander Seaway Act was signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower, that this important waterway became a reality. The Act authorized the U.S. government to work jointly with the government of Canada to create a deep-water 114-mile navigation channel in the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Ogdensburg, New York. The seaway enabled large ships and tankers to sail directly from the Atlantic Ocean to Duluth, Minnesota, on the Great Lakes. The completed seaway resulted in lower costs for shipping goods to and from the Midwest. For documents on the project, photographs of the St. Lawrence Seaway and President Eisenhower signing S.1250, and a listing of collections containing material on this topic, please contact the Eisenhower Library.