Although Dwight D. Eisenhower is usually associated with Kansas (where his family lived for most of his life), he was actually born in Denison, Texas, the third of seven sons. His mother originally named him David Dwight but she reversed the two names after his birth in order to avoid the confusion of having two Davids in the family. (Ike's father was named David). In 1892, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas, the town that Eisenhower considered to be his home town. From his modest midwestern roots, Eisenhower accomplished much. Besides being the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961, he had previously been a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. In that role he had responsibility for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and later the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO.
Eisenhower's parents had a strong religious background that included pacifist beliefs. In spite of this, Eisenhower attended and graduated from West Point Military Academy, where he was more of an athlete than a scholar. He played football for West Point, but a knee injury ended what might have been a promising athletic career. He married the former Mamie Doud, who by marriage acquired the turbulent and transient life of a military spouse. The couple had two sons. After World War II, Eisenhower served as Army Chief of Staff under President Harry S. Truman, and then assumed the post of President at Columbia University.
Eisenhower entered the 1952 presidential race as a very popular candidate. Both parties wanted him and Harry Truman offered to step aside if Ike ran for the Democrats. Eisenhower chose the Republican party instead and he won by a landslide, defeating Democrat Adlai Stevenson and ending two decades of the New Deal Coalition. Almost immediately he kept a campaign promise in which he told voters "I shall go to Korea", and that he did. When he was there he ate the same rations as the enlisted men instead of presidential cuisine. In the first year of his presidency, Eisenhower deposed the leader of Iran in the 1953 Iranian coup d'état and used the threat of nuclear aggression to end the Korean War in a stalemate as the United States squared off with China for the latter nation's first time as a major world power. Ike's policy of nuclear deterrence gave priority to inexpensive nuclear weapons while reducing the funding for conventional military forces. His goal was to keep pressure on the Soviet Union while reducing federal deficits.
In 1954, Eisenhower set out his "domino theory" in assessing the threat presented by the spread of communism. When the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite in 1957, he believed that the United States had to play catch-up in the space race. He forced Israel, the UK, and France to end their invasion of Egypt during the Suez Crisis of 1956. In 1958, he sent 15,000 U.S. troops to Lebanon to prevent the pro-Western government from falling to a Nasser-inspired revolution. Near the end of his term, his efforts to set up a summit meeting with the Soviets collapsed because of the U-2 spy plane incident in which he was caught in a lie about the US spying on the Russians. He gave a very famous 1961 farewell address to the nation, in which Eisenhower expressed his concerns about future dangers of massive military spending, especially deficit spending, and warned Americans to be on guard against what he called the "military–industrial complex".
On the domestic front, he opposed Senator Joe McCarthy's witch-hunt against communists at home, though many believe that he didn't do so strongly enough. More important to his legacy, he launched the Interstate Highway System, and under the guise of improving national defense, he created a vastly improved set of roads for national domestic travel and commerce. He sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce federal court orders to desegregate public schools. He also signed civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote. He implemented desegregation of the armed forces in two years and made five appointments to the Supreme Court. He didn't intend things to work out this way, but by appointing former California Republican Governor Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he brought about great advances in the field of civil liberties, albeit much too fast for the conservative Eisenhower, who preferred his social change at a more gradual pace. He was also the first term-limited president in accordance with the 22nd Amendment. He suffered a heart attack prior to the end of his first term, but still managed to win a second term.
Eisenhower's two terms were peaceful ones for the most part and saw considerable economic prosperity except for a sharp recession in 1958–59. Eisenhower is often ranked highly among the U.S. presidents. Eisenhower spent his final years as an elder statesman.
On March 28, 1969, Dwight Eisenhower died in Washington, D.C. of congestive heart failure at Walter Reed Army Hospital at the age of 78. He is interred in a small chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, alongside his son Doud, who died at age 3 in 1921. His wife Mamie was buried next to him after her death a decade later in 1979. The marble walls surrounding the couple's resting place contain some of Eisenhower's greatest oratory.
When Dwight Eisenhower died, his former Vice-President was now in the Oval Office. Richard Nixon said of his former boss:
"Some men are considered great because they lead great armies or they lead powerful nations. For eight years now, Dwight Eisenhower has neither commanded an army nor led a nation; and yet he remained through his final days the world's most admired and respected man, truly the first citizen of the world."