Milton Eisenhower

Name Milton S. Eisenhower
Born September 15 1899
Died May 2 1985
Birth Location Abilene, KS

Educator, government official, first director of the War Relocation Authority . Milton S. Eisenhower (1899–1985) was selected by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the first director of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) with the formation of that agency on March 18, 1942. Opposed to the mass incarceration of West Coast Japanese Americans he was to oversee, he resigned three months later. His successor, Dillon Myer , would lead the WRA throughout its subsequent history.

Prior to the War

Milton Stover Eisenhower was born on September 15, 1899 in Abilene, Kansas, the 6th son of David and Ida Eisenhower. He graduated from Kansas State College with a degree in journalism in 1924, after which he joined the foreign service, being posted in Scotland for two years. Returning to the States, he briefly taught journalism at his alma mater before moving to Washington, DC to take a post in the Department of Agriculture. He eventually became the director of information there and the top aide to Roosevelt's secretary of agriculture Henry A. Wallace, despite being a moderate Republican.

In 1927, he married Helen Eakin (1904–54), with whom he had two children.

WRA Director

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt asked Eisenhower to do a study on the war information needs of the federal government. The month-long project, conducted with former Agriculture Department colleague John Bird, led to a recommendation for an Office of War Information (OWI) to centralize federal information resources.

In early March 1942, he was called to the White House for a new assignment: to head the War Relocation Authority, the agency charged with administering what would be a mass removal and incarceration of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast. Though "deeply troubled" by the assignment, Eisenhower accepted. As he recounted in his memoirs, "President Roosevelt was the Commander-in-Chief and he had given me my war assignment. I was determined to carry it out as effectively and humanely as possible." [1] The executive order announcing the formation of the War Relocation Authority was promulgated a week later, on March 18.

Knowing next to nothing about Japanese Americans and the circumstances that led to their exclusion, he set to work, arranging meetings with key architects of the exclusion including attorney general Francis Biddle , assistant secretary of war John McCloy , Karl Bendetsen and Western Defense Command head General John DeWitt . He learned that the army already had established 108 exclusion areas out of which Japanese Americans would be systematically removed over the coming weeks to fifteen hastily constructed temporary facilities dubbed "assembly centers." (See Civilian Exclusion Orders and Sites of Incarceration .) He also found that they had selected two sites for more permanent detention—what would later become Manzanar and Poston —that could hold up to 30,000 people. Beyond that, he had more or less free reign to try to resettle the moved Japanese Americans off of the West Coast, to try to find them employment, and to set up whatever type of "evacuation center" he deemed appropriate. During his meeting with Bendetsen, he proposed removing only the men, leaving behind the women and children to maintain businesses and households, a proposal Bendetsen rejected.

He set up a West Coast office for the WRA (raiding staff from other federal agencies), met with the Federal Reserve Bank to try to get them to protect Japanese American property, and set up a Japanese American "advisory council" headed by Mike Masaoka , establishing what would be a close relationship between the WRA and the Japanese American Citizens League . He also determined that the best course of action would be to try to resettle the removed Japanese Americans inland, perhaps in small Civilian Conservation Corps type camps from which they could find jobs in the local economies. He set up a meeting with governors from western states to gauge their response to this approach.

The meeting, which took place on April 7, 1942, in Salt Lake City, was a disaster. (See Salt Lake City Governor's Meeting .) The assembled governors and other state officials were, almost without exception, vehemently opposed to Japanese Americans moving to their states except in concentration camps. Resigned to "evacuation camps" he worked to identify sites on which they could be built, assured by McCloy that the army could build the camps. He also tried to set up a "work corps" program to help to satisfy the demand for farm labor, an effort that would eventually be successful. He also tried to set up a program that would allow Nisei who had been in college on the West Coast to leave the camps for colleges outside the coast. This would lead to the formation of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council .

By June, he had had enough. As he wrote in his memoirs

The next three months were a nightmare. In that period I seldom slept in my own home. I traveled from Washington to San Francisco and back on an average of once a week, always by night sleeper plane. The 'night' description applied; the 'sleeper' part did not—at least for me. [2]

Offered a position as deputy to Elmer Davis in the Office of War Information, he accepted, enlisting his friend Dillon Myer to be his replacement. He turned in his resignation on June 18, 1942. He had been WRA director for ninety days.

Along with Davis, Eisenhower was a strong advocate for allowing Nisei to serve in the armed forces, citing their propaganda value. Their advocacy was a key factor in the subsequent formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on February 1, 1943. Eisenhower also played a starring role in the OWI's first documentary film on Japanese Americans, titled Japanese Relocation .

College President and Presidential Advisor

In May of 1943, he left government to become the president of Kansas State University, a post he would hold for over six years. In that role, he led the transition of the school from its emphasis on agriculture and engineering to a broader liberal arts curriculum. He went on to head Pennsylvania State College (later University) (1950–56) and Johns Hopkins University (1956–67, 1971–72). He was brought out of retirement to return to Johns Hopkins in 1971 to deal with a severe budget deficit, a situation he successfully turned around in a year. In addition to his university presidential duties, he served as a close presidential advisor during his brother's administration (Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th president of the United States, 1953–61) and subsequently in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, chairing the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence under the latter.

In his later years, he published his memoirs, The President Is Calling , in 1974, which contains a full chapter recounting his WRA period. He also was listed as the running mate for John B. Anderson's 1980 presidential campaign in 1980 in several states, his only foray into electoral politics. He died in Baltimore in 1985 at the age of 85. A building at Kansas State, an auditorium at Penn State, and a research center and library at Johns Hopkins are all named after him.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

For More Information

Ambrose, Stephen E. and Richard H. Immerman. Milton S. Eisenhower: Educational Statesman . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.

Daniels, Roger. Concentration Camps, U.S.A.: Japanese Americans and World War II . New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

———. Concentration Camps, North America: Japanese in the United States and Canada during World War II . Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Co., 1981. [Updated edition of the Concentration Camps U.S.A. whose relevant sections are identical to the earlier book.]

Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum. [Material on Milton Eisenhower at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum includes four oral histories.]

Eisenhower, Milton S. Interviewed by Maclyn Burg. Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum. Oct. 15, 1971. [Transcript].

Eisenhower, Milton S. The President Is Calling . Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1974.

Immerman, Richard H. "Milton S. Eisenhower." In American National Biography , vol. 7. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

"Japanese Relocation." Produced by the U.S. Office of War Information. 1943. 9 min. 26 sec. . [Milton Eisenhower narrated (much of it on camera) this OWI/WRA short film.]


  1. Milton S. Eisenhower, The President Is Calling (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1974), 98.
  2. Eisenhower, The President Is Calling , 114.

Last updated Dec. 22, 2023, 1:07 a.m..