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Robert A. Lovett
4th United States Secretary of Defense

In office
September 17, 1951 – January 20, 1953
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by George Marshall
Succeeded by Charles Erwin Wilson
2nd United States Deputy Secretary of Defense

In office
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Stephen T. Early
Succeeded by Vacant
Roger M. Kyes (1953)
15th Under Secretary of State

In office
July 1, 1947 – January 20, 1949
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Dean Acheson
Succeeded by James E. Webb
Personal details
Born Robert Abercrombie Lovett
(1895-09-14)September 14, 1895
Huntsville, Texas, U.S.
Died May 7, 1986(1986-05-07) (aged 90)
Locust Valley, NY, U.S.
Political party Republican Party[1]
Spouse(s) Adele Quartley Brown
Alma mater Yale University
Harvard University
Profession Businessman
Military service
Service/branch United States Navy
Rank Lieutenant Commander
Battles/wars World War I

Robert Abercrombie Lovett (September 14, 1895 – May 7, 1986) was the fourth United States Secretary of Defense, serving in the cabinet of President Harry S. Truman from 1951 to 1953 and in this capacity, directed the Korean War. Promoted to the position from deputy secretary of defense Domhoff described Lovett as a "Cold War architect". He was also a core member of the group of foreign policy elders known as "The Wise Men."

Early life

The son of R.S. Lovett, president and chairman of the board of the Union Pacific Railroad, Lovett was born in Huntsville, Texas. Lovett graduated from The Hill School in Pottstown, PA in 1914. He was a member of the Skull and Bones society at Yale University[2][3] where he graduated in 1918 and took postgraduate courses in law and business administration at Harvard University between 1919 and 1921. He married debutante Adele Quartley Brown April 19, 1919. As a naval ensign during World War I, Lovett flew for a time with the British Naval Air Service on patrol and combat missions, then commanded a US naval air squadron, achieving the rank of lieutenant commander.

Lovett began his business career as a clerk at the National Bank of Commerce in New York, and later moved to the Wall Street investment bank Brown Brothers Harriman, where he eventually became a partner and a prominent member of the New York business community. He remained interested in aeronautics, especially in European commercial and military aviation.

Early government career

In December 1940, Lovett was appointed special assistant for air affairs to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. At the same time, John J. McCloy became general assistant secretary, and Harvey H. Bundy became special assistant to the secretary of war. In April 1941, Lovett was named assistant secretary of war for air, a position that had been vacant since Roosevelt's 1933 inauguration. Lovett served with distinction, overseeing the massive expansion of the Army Air Forces and the procurement of huge numbers of aircraft during World War II. In awarding Lovett the Distinguished Service Medal in September 1945, President Harry Truman wrote: "He has truly been the eyes, ears and hands of the Secretary of War in respect to the growth of that enormous American airpower which has astonished the world and played such a large part in bringing the war to a speedy and successful conclusion."[4]

President Truman refused to accept the resignation of Lovett and McCloy when they and Bundy gave their resignations in September 1945. On October 22, 1945, Secretary of War Robert Patterson created the Lovett Committee, chaired by Robert A. Lovett, to advise the government on the post-World War II organization of U.S. intelligence activities, which led to the creation of the CIA.[5] In December 1945, Lovett returned to Brown Brothers Harriman, only to be called back to Washington a little more than a year later to serve with General George Marshall as undersecretary of state. Through dialogue with Senator Arthur Vandenberg he helped draft the Vandenberg resolution, which led to the establishment of NATO.

In January 1949, Lovett went back to his investment business. Marshall, however, insisted he join him again when he took over at the Pentagon as Secretary of Defense in September 1950. As deputy secretary of defense, Lovett played a critical role in the department's management.

When Lovett became secretary of defense, the end of the Korean War was not yet in sight. His main concern continued to be the long-range rearmament program. Like Marshall, Lovett believed that the United States erred seriously at the end of World War II by disintegrating the military. He had also joined Marshall in opposing the recognition of the new state of Israel in 1948 because he thought it was contrary to long-term U.S. strategic interests in the region.[6]

When the Korean War happened, he designed the rearmament program intended both to meet the demands of the war and to serve as a deterrent and mobilization base in future military emergencies. As Lovett put it, "Heretofore this country has only had two throttle settings one, wide-open for war, and the other, tight-shut for peace. What we are really trying to do is to find a cruising speed."[7]

Lovett argued for large monetary budgets to carry on the Korean War and to improve U.S. defensive strength, asking for large sums of money and arguing strenuously against additional congressional cuts, emphasizing the need to expand Army, Navy, and Marine Corps forces. He argued toward working toward a goal of 143 Air Force wings (as compared with 95 then authorized) and a larger military. Lovett did not get all that he wanted. The actual amount his department received for 1953 came to about $44.2 billion, almost $13 billion less than the previous year. He had asked for initially $71 billion, later reducing his requests to $49 billion.

Lovett's efforts to meet rearmament and preparedness goals suffered in 1952 from a major dispute between the federal government and the steel industry. Truman tried to avert a threatened strike, caused mainly by a wage dispute, by taking over the steel mills in April 1952. The strike occurred after the Supreme Court held that Truman's seizure order was unconstitutional. Lovett supported the president's action as essential to maintaining defense production and expressed serious concern about the strike's effects on the nation's military capabilities. Even so, he noted that "the last six months of 1952 saw the most significant increases in the military effectiveness of the United States since the beginning of partial mobilization."[8]

By the end of the Truman administration, the Defense Department had met successfully the challenges of the Korean War mobilization and embarked on a long-term preparedness effort.

Besides the preparedness issue, Lovett inherited a number of other matters that were still unresolved in the early 1950s, including the proper military role of nuclear weapons. Lovett's stands on the nuclear weapons question and other major military issues generally followed those of his predecessors. He strongly supported universal military training, regarding it as the only viable long-term approach to building a reserve force, and thus making possible a smaller regular military establishment. A firm proponent of NATO, he played an important role when the NATO Council in February 1952 adopted force goals totaling 50 divisions and 4,000 aircraft to be achieved at the end of 1952.

Despite a relatively smooth administration, Lovett felt a growing dissatisfaction with the existing defense organization. Although he recognized that real unification could result only from an evolutionary process and not legislative edict, as the end of his term approached he discerned the need for changes in the National Security Act beyond those made in 1949. Commenting about unification at a press conference a week before he left office, Lovett observed that the Department of Defense would have to be reorganized substantially if the United States became involved in a major conflict. He put forward his recommendations in a long letter to President Truman on November 18, 1952, proposing clarification of the secretary of defense's relationship to the president, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the military departments; redefinition of JCS functions; reorganization of the military departments; and reorganization and redefinition of the functions of the Munitions Board and the Research and Development Board.

Lovett meant his recommendations for practical consideration by his successor, and they indeed played an important role in the formulation of a reorganization plan during the early months of the Eisenhower administration. Concerned about the need for an orderly post-election changeover in the Department of Defense, Lovett met several times during the transition period with the incoming secretary, Charles E. Wilson, and made sure that he was thoroughly briefed on current issues.

Lovett's diaries while he was Under Secretary of State (1947–1949) are available in the Brown Brothers Harriman Collection[9] housed in the manuscripts collection at New-York Historical Society.

Later life

After Lovett left office on January 20, 1953, he returned again to Brown Brothers Harriman, where he remained active as a general partner for many years. Robert Lovett has been recognized as one of the most capable administrators to hold the office of secretary of defense and as a perceptive critic of defense organization. His work in completing the Korean War mobilization and in planning and implementing the long-range rearmament program, as well as his proposals to restructure the Department of Defense, were among his major contributions. Following the 1960 presidential election, Joseph P. Kennedy advised his son John F. Kennedy to offer Robert A. Lovett any Cabinet post he might desire. Lovett graciously declined, citing health reasons. In 1963, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1964, he was awarded the prestigious Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy for his service to the country.

Domhoff credited Lovett, Harvey Bundy and John McCloy with having a close working relationship; and credited John F. Kennedy as accepting Lovett's advice to appoint Dean Rusk as Secretary of State, Robert McNamara as Defense Secretary, and C. Douglas Dillon for the Treasury.

Robert A. Lovett died in Locust Valley, New York, on May 7, 1986, having been preceded by wife Adele on January 4, 1986. Both outlived their children, Evelyn (1920–1967) and Robert Scott Lovett, II (1927–1984).

The Department of History at Yale University, his alma mater, has the Robert A. Lovett Chair of Military and Naval History in his honor. Its current incumbent is John Lewis Gaddis, the noted historian of the Cold War.


  1. [1] Oral history Interview with Robert A. Lovett, at p.11 "I am a registered Republican ..."
  2. Alexandra Robbins, Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power, Little, Brown and Company, 2002, page 184-8.
  3. Current Biography, 1954, H.W. Wilson Company, page 29.
  4. Robert A. Lovett, Harry S. Truman Administration, September 17, 1951 – January 20, 1953 Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense. Accessed October 22, 2012.
  5. [Foreign Relations of the United States, 1945-1950, Retrospective Volume, Emergence of the Intelligence Establishment, Document 32]
  6. Truman Adviser Recalls May 14, 1948 Decision to Recognize Israel, Richard H. Curtiss, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May, June 1991
  7. Roger R. Trask, The Secretaries of Defense, United States Department of Defense Historical Office, 1985, page 18.
  8. Robert A. Lovett, Harry S. Truman Administration, September 17, 1951 – January 20, 1953 Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense. Accessed October 22, 2012.

Daryl J Hudson, “Vandenberg Reconsidered: Senate Resolution 239 and US Foreign Policy,” Diplomatic History, Vol.1 No. 1, Winter 1977


  • Descendants of William Parish Chilton 1810-1871, by Thos. H. Chilton, 1967
  • DoD biography

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Dean G. Acheson
Under Secretary of State
1947 – 1949
Succeeded by
James E. Webb
Preceded by
Stephen T. Early
United States Deputy Secretary of Defense
Succeeded by
Roger M. Kyes
Preceded by
George C. Marshall
U.S. Secretary of Defense
Served under: Harry S. Truman

Succeeded by
Charles E. Wilson
Preceded by
John J. McCloy
Sylvanus Thayer Award recipient
Succeeded by
James B. Conant

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