Military Wiki
Stuart Symington
United States Senator
from Missouri

In office
January 3, 1953 – December 27, 1976
Preceded by James P. Kem
Succeeded by John Danforth
1st United States Secretary of the Air Force

In office
September 18, 1947 – April 24, 1950
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Thomas K. Finletter
Personal details
Born William Stuart Symington, Jr.
(1901-06-26)June 26, 1901
Amherst, Massachusetts
Died December 14, 1988(1988-12-14) (aged 87)
New Canaan, Connecticut
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Evelyn Wadsworth Symington
Profession Business executive
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1918–1919
Rank Army-USA-OF-01b.svg Second Lieutenant
Unit 84th Division

William Stuart Symington, Jr. (/ˈsmɪŋtən/; June 26, 1901 – December 14, 1988) was an American businessman and politician from Missouri. He served as the first Secretary of the Air Force from 1947 to 1950 and was a Democratic United States Senator from Missouri from 1953 to 1976.

Education and business career

Symington was born in Amherst, Massachusetts to parents William Stuart Symington, Sr. and Emily Haxall (née Harrison).[1] His father, William, who received a Ph.D. in French literature, was a romance languages professor at Stanford and Amherst College before pursuing a law career and becoming a federal judge in Baltimore, Maryland.[2] His mother, Emily, a direct descendant of President Benjamin Harrison,[2] came from a wealthy family in Virginia.[3] Symington grew up in Baltimore, and was the oldest of his five brothers and sisters.[2] Symington attended Roland Park Public School and the Gilman School, a private all-male preparatory school in Baltimore's Roland Park neighborhood.[2] He graduated from Baltimore City College in 1918, and at the age of 17, Symington enlisted in the United States Army as a private first class during World War I.[4] Stationed in an Officer Training Program at Camp Zachary Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, Symington was never deployed to fight in WWI, with the war ending before he could seek deployment.[5] Symington was commissioned as a second lieutenant, becoming one of the youngest members of the Army to achieve that rank; being discharged as a second lieutenant in January 1919.[4]

He graduated from Yale University in 1923. At Yale he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Phi chapter), the Elihu senior society, and served on the board of the Yale Daily News.

In 1923, Symington went to work for an uncle in the shops of the Symington Company of Rochester, New York, manufacturers of malleable iron products. Two years later he formed Eastern Clay Products but in 1927 returned to the Symington Company as executive assistant to the President.

Symington resigned in 1930 to become President of the Colonial Radio Corporation. In January 1935, he accepted the presidency of Rustless Iron and Steel Corporation (manufacturers of stainless steel) but remained a director of Colonial Radio Corporation.

When Rustless Iron and Steel Corporation was sold to the American Rolling Mill Company in 1937, Symington resigned and in 1938 accepted the presidency of Emerson Electric Company in St. Louis, Missouri. During World War II he transformed the company into the world's largest builder of airplane gun turrets.

First Secretary of the Air Force

He resigned from Emerson in 1945 to join the administration of fellow Missourian Harry S. Truman. His first positions were chairman of the Surplus Property Board (1945), administrator of the Property Administration (1945–1946) and Assistant Secretary of War for Air (1946–1947).

On September 18, 1947, the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force was created and Symington became the first Secretary. Symington had a stormy term as he moved to give the United States Air Force (which previously had been part of the Army) respect. He had numerous public battles with Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. During his tenure there was a major debate and investigation into production of the Convair B-36 Bomber, which was the last piston-powered bomber at the beginning of the jet age. Major accomplishments during Symington's term as Secretary included the Berlin Airlift and championing the United States Air Force Academy. Symington resigned in 1950 to protest lack of funding for the Air Force after the Soviets detonated their first nuclear weapon. He remained in the administration as Chairman of the National Security Resources Board (1950–1951) and Reconstruction Finance Corporation Administrator (1951–1952).

U.S. Senator

Symington while in the Senate.


At the urging of his father-in-law James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., a former Republican Speaker of the New York State Assembly and U.S. Senator from New York, Symington decided to run for the U.S. Senate.

In 1952, he was elected Senator from Missouri, scoring a win for the Democrats in a year otherwise favorable to the Republicans. He was re-elected in 1958, 1964 and 1970.

Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees

As a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, Symington specialized in military affairs and became known as an advocate for a strong national defense. He was also a strong supporter of the Air Force Academy.

In 1954, he charged that the Department of Defense had wasted millions of dollars on outdated weapons. He became a leading critic of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (1957–1975).

In 1958, Symington accused the RAND Corporation of defeatism for studying how the United States might strategically surrender to an enemy power. This led to the passage of a prohibition on the spending of tax dollars on the study of defeat or surrender of any kind. However, the senator had apparently misunderstood, as the report was a survey of past cases in which the United States had demanded unconditional surrender of its enemies, asking whether or not this had been a more favorable outcome to U.S. interests than an earlier, negotiated surrender might have been.[6]

Opponent of Joseph McCarthy

Symington was an especially prominent opponent of Senator Joseph McCarthy, to the vexation of the latter, who nicknamed him "Sanctimonious Stu". He involved himself in the case of Annie Lee Moss, who had been brought before McCarthy's committee under the accusation that she was a Communist spy. Evidence supporting this claim was given by an undercover FBI agent who could not be cross-examined by Mrs. Moss or her counsel. As it appeared that Moss had been mistakenly identified, Symington proclaimed before the packed audience that he believed she was not a Communist and had never been, receiving thunderous applause from those present. Later that year, Symington took a lead role in censuring McCarthy during the Army–McCarthy hearings, capitalizing upon his prominence and expertise as a former Secretary of the Air Force.

Presidential candidacy

In 1959, Symington, then Chairman of the National Security Resources Board in Washington, D.C., was preparing to run in the 1960 presidential election and won the backing of former President Harry S. Truman, but eventually lost the nomination to Senator John F. Kennedy. On July 2, 1960, Truman announced that he would not be attending the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Truman was miffed that the convention was being controlled by the "overzealous" supporters of Kennedy. Announcing his decision, Truman restated his support for the candidacy of Symington and added, "I have no second choice".[7]

Symington, unlike Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson, refused to speak to segregated audiences in the southern United States and this hurt his chances. He was considered Kennedy's first choice for vice president but was dropped in favor of Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. He advised President Kennedy as a member of EXCOMM during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Other issues

Symington was also committed to constituent services, answering letters from Missouri citizens both important, trivial, and sometimes even zany. As an example, Symington once formally requested a report from military sources regarding the possible existence of subterranean superhumans, which one of his constituents had become concerned about after reading a fiction book and mistaking it for non-fiction[citation needed]. In 2002, this and Symington's other senatorial correspondence and papers were donated to the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection of the University of Missouri and are now available to the general public.

In 1967 when Major League Baseball owners approved the move of the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland, California, he threatened legislation to revoke the league's antitrust exemption and vowed to support lawsuits challenging the legality of the reserve clause. Kansas City was awarded an expansion team, the Kansas City Royals, which was scheduled to begin play in 1971. Symington, saying Kansas City should not wait, continued to threaten the league, and the team began play in 1969.


In 1976, Symington did not seek a fifth term and resigned on December 27, four days before the end of his final term, so that his Republican successor, John Danforth, would gain a seniority advantage in the Senate.


In 1962, in recognition of his career, Princeton University's American Whig-Cliosophic Society awarded Symington the James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service.

His son, James W. Symington, served in the United States House of Representatives from Missouri's Second Congressional District from 1969 to 1977. His cousin, Fife Symington III, was Governor of Arizona from 1991 to 1997. His grandson, also named W. Stuart Symington, is employed by the U.S. State Department and is currently serving as the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda.[8][9] He is a distant relative of UK-based travel writer Martin Symington. Symington was an active member of the Grand Lodge of Missouri Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.

Symington retired in 1978 to his home in New Canaan, Connecticut, where he died on December 14, 1988.[10]

He is buried in a crypt in Washington National Cathedral.


  1. University of Missouri (May 25, 1973). "Symington, Stuart (1901-1988), Scrapbooks, 1945-1976 3637 1 folder, 37 volumes on 6 rolls of microfilm". 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 James C. Olson; University of Missouri Press (2003). Stuart Symington: A Life. pp. 4. ISBN 978-0826215031. 
  3. Eric Pace (December 18, 1988). "Stuart Symington, 4-Term Senator Who Ran for President, Dies at 87". 
  4. 4.0 4.1 United States Air Force (May 20, 2013). "W. STUART SYMINGTON Served as secretary of the Air Force from Sept. 18, 1947 to April 24, 1950". Archived from the original on June 26, 2013. 
  5. James C. Olson; University of Missouri Press (2003). Stuart Symington: A Life. pp. 9. ISBN 978-0826215031. 
  6. Poundstone, W. (1992). Prisoner's Dilemma. Doubleday. 
  7. Truman Charges Kennedy Backers Run Convention, Janson, Donald, New York Times, July 2, 1960
  8. State Department biography
  9. "Hope on the Horn of Africa," an interview with Stuart Symington
  10. Pace, Eric (December 15, 1988). "Stuart Symington, 4-Term Senator Who Ran for President, Dies at 87". Retrieved November 8, 2010. 

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
United States Secretary of the Air Force
Succeeded by
Thomas K. Finletter
United States Senate
Preceded by
James P. Kem
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Missouri
Served alongside: Thomas C. Hennings, Jr., Edward V. Long, Thomas Eagleton
Succeeded by
John Danforth

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