Military Wiki
Robert Porter Patterson, Sr.
55th United States Secretary of War

In office
September 27, 1945 – July 18, 1947
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Henry L. Stimson
Succeeded by Kenneth C. Royall
Personal details
Born February 12, 1891
Glens Falls, New York
Died January 22, 1952(1952-01-22) (aged 60)
Alma mater Union College
Harvard Law School
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Major
Battles/wars World War I
Awards Distinguished Service Cross

Robert Porter Patterson, Sr. (February 12, 1891 – January 22, 1952) was the United States Under Secretary of War under President Franklin Roosevelt and the United States Secretary of War under President Harry S. Truman from September 27, 1945 to July 18, 1947.

Life and politics

Patterson was born in Glens Falls, New York on February 12, 1891. He graduated from both Union College and Harvard Law School. He practiced law in New York City. He served in the United States Army during World War I, reaching the rank of major, and received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in France. In February 2012, The World War I Memoirs of Robert P. Patterson: A Captain in the Great War, edited by J. Garry Clifford, was published by the University of Tennessee Press.

In 1930, President Herbert Hoover appointed Patterson as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted Patterson to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he sat with judges including Learned Hand, Augustus Hand, and Thomas Walter Swan.

In 1940, after 15 months of service on the Second Circuit, Patterson left the bench to join the War Department. After a few months as Assistant Secretary of War, President Roosevelt promoted Patterson to Undersecretary of War late in 1940. He was instrumental in the mobilization of the armed forces preparatory to and during World War II.

Patterson congratulating Col. Chauncey M. Hooper in Hawaii, 1943. In the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration.

President Harry S. Truman appointed Patterson as Secretary of War in 1945. Truman initially was set to offer Patterson a seat on the Supreme Court which was left vacant by Justice Owen J. Roberts, however, with the resignation of Henry L. Stimson, Patterson instead became the Secretary of War.[1] Patterson advocated unifying the armed services (army and navy) and having a single chief of staff. Steps to this effect were begun by the National Security Act of 1947, but was revised several times, finally by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Patterson participated in the desegregation of the armed forces, specifically during late stages of the second world war with regard to creating an African-American fighter group, known now as the Tuskeegee airmen.

Patterson returned to his law practice in 1947. Truman reportedly offered to reappoint Patterson to his former judgeship on the Second Circuit, but Patterson declined, opting to return to private practice. The firm, which continues as a preeminent law firm in New York City, still carries his name, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.

Patterson later served as the president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and the president of the Council of Foreign Relations. He died on January 22, 1952, returning from meeting a client, onboard American Airlines Flight 6780 which crashed on approach to Newark. Patterson's son, Robert P. Patterson, Jr., is himself a federal judge in the Southern District of New York.


  1. Eiler, op. cit. p 443-444
  • Eiler, Kieth. (1997) Mobilizing America: Robert P. Patterson and the War Effort. Cornell University Press.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Henry L. Stimson
U.S. Secretary of War
Served under: Harry S. Truman

Succeeded by
Kenneth C. Royall
Preceded by
New office
United States Under Secretary of War
Succeeded by
Kenneth C. Royall

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