William Stuart Symington
– December 14
) was a businessman and political figure
. He served as the first Secretary of the Air Force
(from 1947 until 1950) and was a Democratic United States Senator
from Missouri (from 1953 until 1976).
Education and Business Career
Symington was born in Amherst, Massachusetts
and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland
. He graduated from Yale University
in 1923. At Yale he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon
fraternity and the Elihu senior society
and served on the board of the Yale Daily News
. During World War I
, Symington enlisted in the United States Army
and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant
at age 17.
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, Inc., 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 United States 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 of the piston powered bombers at the beginning of the jet age. Symington and others were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing. Major accomplishments 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 atomic bomb. He remained in the administration as chairman of National Security Resources Board (1950–1951) and Reconstruction Finance Corporation Administrator (1951–1952).
U.S. Senator and candidate for President
At the urging of his father-in-law James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., a former Republican (GOP) Speaker of the New York Assembly and a GOP U.S. Senator from New York who had also been a rancher in Texas from 1911-1914, Symington ran in 1952 as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate from Missouri.
He was elected in 1952 (nationally, a year favorable for Republicans), and re-elected in 1958, 1964 and 1970 (all three heavily Democratic years), but did not seek a fifth term. He resigned on December 27, 1976, four days before the end of his final term, so that his Republican successor, John C. Danforth, would gain a seniority advantage in the Senate.
Critic of McCarthy
Symington was an especially prominent opponent of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, to the vexation of the latter, who nicknamed him "Sanctimonious Stu." Symington took a lead role in condemning McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy Hearings, capitalizing upon his prominence and expertise as a former Secretary of the Air Force.
The Annie Lee Moss case
On March 9
, Mrs. Annie Lee Moss
went before Sen. Joseph McCarthy
and his committee under the accusation that she was a communist spy. Evidence supporting this claim was supposedly given by an undercover FBI agent who could not be cross-examined by Mrs. Moss or her counsel. As it became increasingly clear that a horrible mistake had been made, Sen. Symington proclaimed before the packed audience that he believed she was not a communist and had never been, receiving thunderous applause from those present. However, in September 1958, records of the Communist Party were released and proved Mrs. Moss was in fact a member of the Communist Party.
In 1950, Symington, then Chairman of the National Security Resources Board in Washington DC, was preparing to run in the next Presidential Elections. However, Symington failed in his attempt to seek nomination. Later, Symington ran 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 Harry Truman announced that he would not be attending the Democratic Convention
in Los Angeles, California
. 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".
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 in the politically tight race. He advised President Kennedy as a member of ExComm
during the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
During Symington's tenure in the Senate, he was known as an advocate for a strong national defense. He was also a strong supporter of the Air Force Academy and, in fact, helped establish it. 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. This and Symington's other Senatorial correspondence and papers were donated to the Western Historical Manuscripts Collection (on the University of Missouri
campus) in 2002, and are now available to the general public.
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 US had demanded unconditional surrender of its enemies, asking whether or not this had been a more favorable outcome to US interests than an earlier, negotiated surrender might have been.
In 1967 when Major League Baseball owners approved the move of the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland, California, he threatened suits and legislation to revoke the league's antitrust exemption. 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 that continued to threaten the league and the team began play in 1969.
His son James W. Symington
served in the U.S. House
from Missouri's Second Congressional District
from 1969 to 1977. His cousin Fife Symington
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 Djibouti
He died in New Canaan, Connecticut, and is buried in a crypt in Washington National Cathedral.