I Like Ike’s Birthday
Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas on October 14, 1890. Ike, as the Eisenhower boys were called, was the third of seven sons. Ike’s family moved to Abilene, Kansas, and the years he spent in the town were among the most important of his life.
Ike relished the history of the Wild West and of ancient times. He named Hannibal, Caesar, Pericles, and Socrates as among his boyhood heroes, competing with cowboys and lawmen for his admiration. Ike’s devotion to the study of the past sometimes came at the expense of other homework and chores and once led his mother to lock up his history books as punishment for neglecting his childhood duties.
Eisenhower excelled at sports - baseball and football in particular, but he also boxed, fished, trapped, hunted, camped, and played poker - the latter learned at the hand of an eccentric outdoorsman and adventurer who taught him how to compute percentages and figure odds, invaluable skills for the future military and political leader.
Ike’s poker skills were enhanced by his powers of observation, some of which were recorded in the margins of his school books, where he rated his teachers as “good” or “cross.” Eisenhower continued his habit of writing character assessments throughout his military and political careers. Historians rate his personnel decisions in the Army and politics as among his greatest skills.
Other important character traits emerged in the Abilene years. Ike attended integrated schools, but when some of his football teammates refused to line up opposite a visiting African American player, Eisenhower volunteered for the position, and shook the player’s hand after the game.
To help bring money into the household, Ike baked and sold tamales; grew and sold sweet corn and cucumbers; harvested wheat, picked apples, and hammered out steel grain bins. He joined the Belle Springs Creamery after graduating high school in 1909, toiling as a fireman from 6:00 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week. With his creamery proceeds he supported his brother Edgar through two years of college at the University of Michigan. The plan was for Edgar to work the next two years for Ike’s schooling. Instead Ike won an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, and left the creamery and Abilene in 1911.
Dwight David Eisenhower was born the year the US census pronounced the frontier closed and died the year man walked on the moon. In between those milestones he planned and led the greatest amphibious military assault in history and served two terms as President. Yet on reflection of this eventful life he declared: “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”
Happy birthday Ike!
-from the Eisenhower Library