The Great Historical Trivia Quiz

QUESTION: What was unusual about the bottom drawer of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s desk?

ANSWER: It was filled with crumpled up pieces of paper containing the names of people who annoyed him.
Of his four brothers, the future President had the worst temper. Anger possessed him and he would “blaze for an hour.” Fortunately, even as a child he realized the need to control his emotions.
His mother told him “Hating was a futile sort of thing. The person who had incurred my displeasure probably didn’t care, possibly didn’t even know, and the only person injured was myself.”
Anger management would always be a struggle for Eisenhower, and he remained sensitive to criticism.
Ike knew bouts of blind rage would prevent him from becoming an effective leader: they wasted his time and clouded his judgment. “Anger cannot win, it cannot even think clearly,” he said.
He developed the following method for controlling his anger towards others:

“To this day I make it a practice to avoid hating anyone. If someone’s been guilty of despicable actions, especially towards me, I try to forget him.
“I followed a practice –somewhat contrived, I admit– to write the man’s name on a piece of paper, drop it into the lowest drawer of my desk, and say to myself: ‘That finishes the incident, and so far as I’m concerned, that fellow.’
“The drawer became over the years a sort of private wastebasket for crumbled-up spite and discarded personalities.
“Besides, it seemed to be effective and helped me avoid useless black feelings. The device applied, of course, to things purely personal. During World War II, there was no question of the deep-seated hatred I felt for Hitler and all that he stood for. But there were ways to deal with him other than the drawer.”

The story is told in: “Eisenhower: Soldier and President” by Stephen E. Ambrose

Ike’s Farewell Address: Liberals Are Wrong About The “Military Industrial Complex”



1/17/61: President Dwight Eisenhower’s Farewell Address is best known for the phrase “military industrial complex,” but his target was not the Pentagon, it was pork barrel spending by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower told the nation “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” For  50 years that quote has been used by liberals and libertarians in their attempts to cut the defense budget and to stop national security programs. Eisenhower was planning to use the term “military-industrial-congressional complex,” but in a move he later regretted, was talked out of it by his brother.
Eisenhower was a strong advocate of defense modernization programs, and the real target of his speech was Capitol Hill, not the Pentagon. In those Cold War days, America was spending 9% of its GDP on defense programs, which is almost three times the level of our spending today. National security was ranked as the number one concern of the American people, and everyone was aware of the statement of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, “We will bury you.”


The tone of the farewell address was motivated by Ike’s anger at the Democratic Party. In three days John F. Kennedy would be inaugurated and Eisenhower was still stung by criticism aimed at his defense programs. Democrats had campaigned in 1956, ’58 and ’60 on non-existent gaps in defense programs. During Eisenhower’s 1956 re-election campaign the focus was on the “bomber gap.”
This shifted to a “missile gap” in 1958 when the Democrats won 16 Senate seats, and the charge was repeated with more vehemence during the 1960 presidential campaign. Unfortunately the Republican president did not provide any information to rebut these claims. To do so he thought would reveal closely guarded intelligence secrets.
The missile gap can now be seen as the grand deception of the 1960 campaign. It was fueled by the launch of the Soviet space satellite Sputnik on October 4, 1957. This 184 pound satellite instantly became a symbol of Soviet pre-eminence in outer space. It was a major topic in the U.S. and shattered public confidence in our technological superiority. “The national ego had not been so affronted since Pearl Harbor,” Ben Pearse of the New York Times wrote of the national trauma.
Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA) frequently mentioned Sputnik during his campaign to “Get America moving again.” Kennedy said Eisenhower was “putting fiscal security ahead of national security. Surely our nation’s security overrides budgetary considerations.” Kennedy said Eisenhower had always made insufficient appropriations for defense.
JFK often repeated the same theme, “The nation is losing the satellite-missile race with the Soviet Union because of complacent miscalculations, penny-pinching, budget cutbacks, incredibly confused mismanagement, and wasteful rivalries and jealousies. . . We are facing a gap on which we are gambling with our survival.”
It was also an effective issue for him during the presidential debate, and he quoted the controversial 1957 Gaither Report of the President’s science advisers on the vulnerability of American defenses. Kennedy claimed the USSR had 50 ICBMs while America only had 10, and just 5 of them were operational at any time. He said the gap would be enormous by 1961 when the Soviets would have hundreds of new missiles.
Nixon later said he could not effectively respond to JFK because the information was classified. Kennedy had no inside information about a missile gap, and his source was right wing syndicated columnist Joseph Alsop. We now know Alsop’s figures were bogus.
Many Americans thought a Soviet attack was only a matter of time. Khrushchev arrived in the United States on September 19, 1959 for an uninvited and unwelcome twenty-five-day visit. He addressed the United Nations General Assembly, taunted UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and pounded a shoe on his desk in the General Assembly.
Senator Stuart Symington (D-MO), the former Secretary of the Air Force and the Democrats leading spokesman on defense said, “A very substantial missile gap does exist and the Eisenhower Administration apparently is going to permit this gap to increase.” President Eisenhower responded “The bomber gap of several years ago was always a fiction, and the missile gap shows every sign of being the same.”
In his book, “Who Ever Believed in the ‘Missile Gap’?”: John F. Kennedy and the Politics of National Security,” Christopher Preble argues that because of the missile gap rhetoric, senior Soviet military figures believed JFK was a dangerous extremist. They thought he was trying to justify a pre-emptive American attack, and this led to the Soviets placing nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962.


Talk of a bomber gap began in 1954 with the first reports of the USSR “Bison” jet bomber. On May 1, 1955, western observers at the annual May Day parade were awestruck as several formations of 10 new Bison’s thundered overhead. We now know these formations were an illusion.
It was the same pack of 10 bombers circling out of sight and then flying over Red Square six times. Americans were told 600 of these bombers existed, but Bison production was halted in 1963 with the construction of 93 aircraft. The Soviets were not pleased with the capabilities of the Bison and most of the planes were converted into refueling tankers.
In April of 1957 the Soviet Union unveiled the Bear bomber, and once again, rhetoric about a gap was intensified. U-2 intelligence flights had begun on July 4, 1956, and President Eisenhower had convincing proof that there was no gap. The same information was relayed to the Congress, but Democrats were not about to abandon an effective campaign issue. They were supported by defense and aerospace companies which wanted to keep production lines open. Their lobbying was successful and the U.S. response to the 93 Bison bombers was the construction of over 2,500 bombers for the U.S. Air Force.


The United States had a huge lead over the Soviet Union in those days, and the balance would not shift until the mid-1970s. It was known from the outset that these gaps were false, but they were effective political tools.
The campaign rhetoric was not necessary after Kennedy won, and at his first press briefing Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said “The Russians probably have no more intercontinental ballistic missiles than the U.S.” He would later confirm that there never had been a bomber or missile gap. The debate finally ended in October 1961, when members of the Kennedy administration declared that the United States possessed overwhelming military strength in the number of bombers and missiles.

Trivia Questions About the First Ladies

1) Which brilliant First Lady used her own money to send 46 disadvantaged young people to college? The press never knew of her generosity and neither did her husband. He only discovered what she had done after her death. Continue reading

The Missile and Bomber Gaps: The Grand Deceptions of the 1960 Presidential Campaign

Today in 1961 President Dwight Eisenhower gave his farewell address. The best known portion is when the departing President warned “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” Continue reading

Back by Popular Demand: More Presidential Trivia

1) A woman taking a tour of the White House was unexpectedly introduced to the President. He asked her to stay for tea and proposed marriage two months later. Who was her husband?

2) Why did Secret Service agents always want to avoid shopping trips with Mamie Eisenhower? For the same reason they did not want to accept gifts from Mrs. Eisenhower. They were not reluctant to watch her favorite soap opera, “Days of Our Lives,” and to tell her about the plot when she was called away.

3) Why did Lynda and Luci Johnson carry flashlights in their bathrobes? Luci converted to the Roman Catholic faith while she was in the White House. Lynda had the first White House wedding in 53 years.

4) During her time as First Lady, how many states west of the Potomac River were visited by Jacqueline Kennedy?

5) Why did President Johnson’s 1965 party in honor of the U.S. Congress, which included several Hollywood stars, begin at 2 am?

6) Vice President Alben Barkley was elected in 1948 but he was not President Harry Truman’s first choice. Who was originally asked to be Truman’s running mate?

7) White House servants noted several significant differences between Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Can you name one of them? It had nothing to do with FDR’s disability.

8) Which President attended 6 Inaugural Balls, but despite pleas from the crowd never danced at any of them? He is the only President who always visited the basement level kitchen after formal events to thank the staff. The answer is not FDR who was unable to dance.

9) Which President never joined any church until after his election? He later said many important decisions were made “on his knees,” and in recent years he has been criticized for combining church and state.

10) President and Mrs. James Monroe enjoyed entertaining and there were frequent Wednesday evening parties at the White House. How did they avoid party crashers?

11) Dwight Eisenhower had never heard of Mrs. Thomas Preston when she was seated next to him at a dinner party. They discussed life in DC and he asked her where she had lived in the nation’s capitol. Mrs. Preston was a resident of the White House for 8 years when she was First Lady. Who was her husband?

12) Why was Ronald Reagan sworn in as Governor of California at midnight?
1) Woodrow Wilson. The first Mrs. Wilson died in 1914 and he was introduced to Edith Bolling Galt when she was taking a tour of the family quarters in 1915. She was waiting by the elevator when the President emerged after his tennis game. The second Mrs. Wilson died on the morning of December 28, 1961 at the age of 89. It was the day she was scheduled to officially open the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River.
2) Mrs. Eisenhower always asked her agents to buy presents for their wives when she was shopping. She could be rather insistent, and she wanted to see what they had purchased. Her gifts were often intended for their wives, and she frequently asked the agents to buy something that would go with it. For example, she would give the agent a bracelet and ask him to buy his wife a ring to accompany her gift. It was expensive for the agents to provide security for Mamie Eisenhower!
3) The Johnson girls carried flashlights because their father insisted on keeping all the overhead lights turned off. It was part of his economy drive, but household costs still increased significantly under LBJ. The big factor was that the White House was no longer able to use bootleg liquor. This was liquor which has been confiscated by the federal government.
4) Mrs. Kennedy frequently took a White House helicopter to her rented “Glen Ora” estate in northern Virginia for horseback riding in 1961. The family built their own estate, “Wexford,” in 1962, but President Kennedy only visited his home on three weekends. He preferred Camp David.
Ironically, Ronald Reagan spent more time at Wexford than John Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy also visited nearby Middleburg and other Virginia hunt country destinations. Until she left for Dallas in 1963, those were the only times she crossed the Potomac River. She never ventured west of northern Virginia prior to that fateful day.
5) The party started late because Congress was in session and LBJ did not want to begin until the House had passed the Lady Bird Johnson Highway Beautification Act which banned billboards on interstate highways.
6) Truman’s first choice for Vice President was Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who turned him down because he thought the President would lose the 1948 election. Douglas had also been FDR’s first choice in 1944.
7) The Truman’s not only remembered names of all the servants but they insisted on introducing the staff to all of their guests. When the waiter brought tea to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, he was introduced to the royal couple. The Truman’s dined together and were often in the same room in the evening hours. That does not appear unusual, but no one could remember Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt being in the same room.
8) Richard Nixon. He did dance at his daughter’s wedding.
9) Dwight Eisenhower, who was responsible for adding “In God We Trust” to the currency.
10) A party crasher would not have had a problem in meeting President Monroe. The butler’s were told to admit anyone who was suitably dressed.
11) The first husband of Mrs. Thomas Preston was President Grover Cleveland. The dinner is described in “At Ease: Stories I Tell to My Friends” by Dwight Eisenhower.
12) Mrs. Reagan’s astrologer, Joan of San Francisco, said midnight would be the best time for an Inauguration.
13) This 1927 photo was taken during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge.

Ten Presidential Trivia Questions

1) Which President was able to secretly leave the White House over 20 times without the knowledge of the Secret Service?
2) Which First Family visited the National Gallery of Art and departed with 64 valuable paintings? The same president later visited the Gallery early one morning and was so impressed that he brought his family back after closing time that evening.
3) When Queen Elizabeth II enters Buckingham Palace the Royal Standard is immediately raised, and it is lowered right away when she departs. The same procedure is followed for French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Élysée Palace. Why is this policy not instituted at the White House?
4) Which President received 99% of the vote in South Carolina, 97% in Mississippi but only 51% in Massachusetts?
5) Which First Lady wrote, “Was I the best wife for him, probably not.”
6) Who was our first Roman Catholic First Lady? Her husband was the father of 15 children.
7) Which future president was 32 years old when he proposed marriage to a 15 year old girl? She accepted at first but later broke the engagement.
8) Which two future presidents both proposed marriage to their future wives on the first date?
9) Which future president wrote a letter declaring his absolute refusal to participate in politics? He met secretly with the man who would be his future primary opponent. He planned to give the letter to him, but changed his mind when his opponent would not budge from his isolationist viewpoint.
10) Which First Lady said “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” (Editorial note: She should have added, “and really small minds compile presidential trivia!”)


1) For President Calvin Coolidge avoiding the Secret Service was a game, and he frequently explored the White House to discover new ways to sneak out. When he avoided his security detail he often went for a walk, and it was usually along busy F Street. All of the guards were alerted to the President’s hobby and many times they were able to catch up to him before he had gone too far. The story is told in Starling of the White House by Colonel Edmond Starling.
2) President Harry Truman needed art work in 1945 because the White House walls on the second and third floors were practically bare when the Roosevelt’s moved out after 13 years. Truman’s next visit to the National Gallery was in 1948 to see a special collection of art work which had been initially seized by Nazi Germany.
3) The United States always had the same policy as the UK and France, but this practice was suspended at the outset of WW II when FDR did not want to call attention to his whereabouts. The policy was not resumed when the war ended.
4) Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. It is interesting to note that the cotton South was completely Democratic while Massachusetts came close to being in the Republican column. Gov. Alf Landon (R-KS), the GOP candidate opposing FDR, received only 8 electoral votes, and won just two states, Maine and Vermont. New York had 45 Congressional Districts in those days and Florida had only five seats.
5) Eleanor Roosevelt from her “My Day” newspaper column which appeared just a week after her husband’s death. It is quoted in Eleanor: The Years Alone (1972) by Joseph Lash.
6) Julia Gardiner Tyler, the wife of President John Tyler, converted to the Catholic faith after she left the White House. Jacqueline Kennedy is the only First Lady who was Catholic during her tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania. She was married a second time to a divorced man in a ceremony of his Greek Orthodox faith, thus breaking her faith’s tenets. However, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis did not convert and was buried with full rites of the Catholic Church.
7) Future President James Madison, 32, proposed to 15 year old Catherine “Kitty” Floyd. Her father was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Madison was frequently a guest at their New York plantation. The engagement was called off in the summer of 1783. Madison never again talked of the failed romance and all references to it in past letters to Thomas Jefferson were erased.
8) Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Nixon had a long courtship with Pat Ryan before she agreed to marry him.
9) Dwight Eisenhower was prepared to walk away from the 1952 GOP nomination, but changed his mind when he discovered that Senator Robert Taft (R-OH) was a vigorous opponent of NATO and the Marshall Plan. The story is told in Eisenhower’s At Ease: Stories I Tell to my Friends.
10) Eleanor Roosevelt in The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt.