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McElroy, Neil

McElroy, Neil (1904–1972), secretary of defense (1957–59).McElroy was born in Berea, Ohio, and graduated from Harvard in 1925. He was employed by Procter & Gamble, rising to the presidency in 1948. Chairmanship of a White House conference on education (1955–56) brought him to the attention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who appointed him secretary of defense effective 9 October 1957.

McElroy's accession followed by a few days the launching of the first global‐orbiting satellite (Sputnik) by the Soviet Union, which ushered in the age of long‐range rocketry and space exploration. During McElroy's tenure, major U.S. missile projects begun several years earlier came to fruition. McElroy ordered production of two intermediate‐range (1,500‐mile) missiles, Jupiter and Thor, developed by the army and air force respectively. He accelerated development of the air force intercontinental missiles, Atlas and Titan, and of the navy's Polaris (submarine) system. He also authorized development of the improved Minuteman missile by the air force and established the Advanced Research Projects Agency to supervise the development of new weapons.

McElroy presided over a comprehensive reorganization of the Department of Defense in 1958. Initiative for this came from President Eisenhower, but McElroy appointed the committee that worked out the details and transmitted its conclusions to Eisenhower. The reorganization enhanced the position of the secretary of defense, making him virtual deputy commander in chief.

After leaving office on 1 December 1959, McElroy rejoined Procter & Gamble.
[See also Defense Reorganization Acts; Satellites, Reconnaissance.]


Roger R. Trask , The Secretaries of Defense: A Brief History, 1985.
Robert J. Watson , Into the Missile Age, 1956–1960, 1997.

Robert J. Watson

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