Donald Harold Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld (born 1932) became the United States 21st Secretary of Defense on January 20, 2001. Before assuming that position, he was a Navy pilot, President Gerald Ford's Secretary of Defense, President Ford's White House Chief of Staff, U.S. Ambassador to NATO under President Richard Nixon, a U.S. Congressman from Illinois, and chief executive officer at two Fortune 500 companies.


Donald Harold Rumsfeld was born in Chicago on July 9, 1932, the son of George Donald Rumsfeld, a real estate salesman, and Jeannette Huster Rumsfeld. He was raised in Winnetka, Illinois, a wealthy suburb on Chicago's North Shore. At New Trier High School, Rumsfeld was a champion wrestler in the 145-pound class. He would marry his high school sweetheart in 1954.

Following his graduation from high school, Rumsfeld attended Princeton University on an academic and NROTC scholarship and became captain of the football and wrestling teams. There is a legend about Rumsfeld during his college days that says he would do one-armed push-ups for money. Rumsfeld admitted years later that he did not have much money in college, and that he did the push-ups because he needed to scrape together some cash. In any case he graduated from Princeton with an A.B. degree in 1954 with a major in political science.

In 1954, he began three years of service in the U.S. Navy as an aviator and flight instructor. In 1957, he transferred to the Ready Reserve. As a member of the reserve, he continued his flying and administrative assignments during drills until 1975. (Upon becoming Secretary of Defense in 1975, he would transfer to the Standby Reserve. In 1989, he was re-assigned to the Retired Reserve with the rank of captain.)

Washington Bound

In 1957, Rumsfeld moved to Washington to serve as administrative assistant to a congressman. Two years later, he became a congressional staff assistant. Rumsfeld left Washington from 1960 to 1962 to serve as a representative of the Chicago investment banking firm, A.G. Becker and Company. But in 1962, at the age of 30, Rumsfeld won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Illinois. He would also go to win re-election in 1964, 1966, and 1968. But in 1969, he gave up his seat in Congress to join the Nixon administration as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, assistant to the president, and member of the president's cabinet.

In 1971, Rumsfeld was named counselor to the president and director of the Economic Stabilization Program, while continuing in his role as a member of the president's cabinet. Two years later, he was appointed U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Brussels, Belgium. Rumsfeld returned to Washington in 1974 to serve as chairman of President Gerald R. Ford's transition team, and stayed on as President Ford's White House chief of staff and member of Ford's cabinet.

Thirteenth Secretary of Defense

On November 11, 1975, the U.S. Senate confirmed Rumsfeld's appointment as the 13th Secretary of Defense. Taking office nine days later, he became the youngest person, at 43, to serve as defense secretary in the nation's history. His tenure would continue until January 20, 1977, when the Carter administration took office. In 1977, Rumsfeld was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award that can be given to a U.S. citizen.


The change of administrations resulted in a time-out in Rumsfeld's political career. Between 1977 and 1985, he served as president and chief executive officer of the multinational pharmaceutical company, G.D. Searle & Co. At Searle, Rumsfeld increased profits on such mundane products as Metamucil by introducing orange and lemon flavors. His greatest success, however, was bringing Nutra Sweet to market. Rumsfeld's achievements at Searle brought him awards as the Outstanding Chief Executive Officer in the Pharmaceutical Industry from the Wall Street Transcript (1980) and Financial World (1981). On June 1, 1985, he became the first person in the company's history who was not a member of the Searle family to serve as chairman of the board.

While still with Searle, Rumsfeld also found time to serve the Reagan administration as a member of the President's General Advisory Committee on Arms Control (1982-1986); special envoy on the Law of the Sea Treaty (1982-1983); special envoy to the Middle East (1982-1984); senior advisor to the President's Panel on Strategic Systems (1983-1984); and member of the U.S. Joint Advisory Commission on U.S.-Japan Relations.

Rumsfeld's resume shows him to have been in private business from 1985 to 1990. On May 30, 1986, the Wall Street Journal announced that he planned to seek the Republican nomination for president for the 1988 election. But by March 2, 1987, he had apparently changed his mind and announced that he would not seek the presidency after all. From 1987 to 1990, Rumsfeld was a member of the National Commission for Public Service. He served on the National Economic Commission from 1988 to 1989 and as a member of the Board of Visitors of the National Defense University from 1988 to 1992.

In 1990, he joined the General Instrument Corporation, a leader in broadband transmission, distribution, and access control technologies, as chairman and chief executive officer. He remained at General Instrument until 1993. From 1992 to 1993, he also served on the U.S. Federal Communication Commission's High Definition Television Advisory Committee.

Rumsfeld remained in private business after 1993, becoming chairman of the board of directors of Gilead Sciences, Inc., and a member of the boards of Asea Brown Boveri, Ltd., Amylin Pharmaceuticals, and the Tribune Company. He also served as chairman of the Salomon Smith Barney International Advisory Board and an advisor to a number of companies, including Investor AB of Sweden. In the public sector, he served as chairman of the U.S. Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization.

Political Ties

Rumsfeld continued to maintain alliances with Republican causes and commissions while pursuing his business career. In 1996, he worked with Bob Dole's presidential campaign in an attempt to unseat incumbent Bill Clinton. From 1998 to 1999, he served as chairman of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. From 1999 to 2000, he was a member of the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission and in 2000 served as chairman of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization.

Twenty-first Secretary of Defense

Rumsfeld became the 21st Secretary of Defense on January 20, 2001. When Rumsfeld took office, he was initially faced with the task of whittling down the Pentagon's $300 billion budget. At that time, he attempted to portray himself as a champion of the taxpayers who was trying to keep money from being wasted on political and military boondoggles. But in a war with the Pentagon in which his mission was to reduce military waste, most Washington insiders were betting that Rumsfeld would fail. The military, finding itself left out of planning Rumsfeld's reforms, began taking potshots at him in press conferences. Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Rumsfeld seemed to be headed toward marginalization, a fate often reserved for politicians who have no further ambition. But after September 11, Rumsfeld found himself confronted with prosecuting a war instead of fighting Pentagon bureaucracy.

Rumsfeld began revamping Department of Defense strategy and reworking the model used to assess the country's military manpower needs. With presidential authorization, he undertook to reorganize the United States' worldwide command structure (into the U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Strategic Command). Rumsfeld also looked at the nation's military capabilities in space and developed a model of strategic deterrence that reduces nuclear weapons. He also beefed up missile defense research and testing.

With the declaration of the war on terrorism, many of Rumsfeld's deficits seemed to turn into assets, including his marked tendency toward arrogance. Jeffrey Krames, writing in The Rumsfeld Way, quotes from Rumsfeld's speech to members of the U.S. Armed Forces on the day after the September 11 terrorist attack, "Great crises are marked by their memorable moments. At the height of peril to his own nation, Winston Churchill spoke of their finest hour. Yesterday, America and the cause of human freedom came under attack, and the great crisis of America's twenty-first century was suddenly upon us." Krames wondered whether Rumsfeld really meant to imply that he was up to dealing with the hand of destiny.

In the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks, Rumsfeld initially seemed bent on taking personal control of the war. He urged the Central Command to put more ground troops on the battlefield, after the commanding general failed to achieve any progress with bombing raids. But he eventually decided that the best way to win a war is to let the senior military run it—winning him more than a few points with the Pentagon.

Also during the Afghanistan war, Rumsfeld acquired a reputation of speaking in plain English at press conferences, instead of using the military speak many reporters had become used to. Criticism of Rumsfeld initially remained sparse following the September 11 attacks, if only because there was a fear of being branded a traitor if one did not sign up to his cut-and-dry agenda.

But by 2003, when the war on terrorism had transformed itself into a "showdown with Saddam Hussein," Rumsfeld's reputation as a plain speaker seemed to be unraveling, and dissenters were finding their voice. Mike Moore, senior editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, accused Rumsfeld of deliberately distorting the difference between a preventive and pre-emptive war in his public statements. Citing the Department of Defense's own Dictionary of Military Terms, Moore pointed out that a preemptive war is one "initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent," while a preventive war is "initiated in the belief that military conflict, while not imminent, is inevitable, and that to delay would involve greater risk." Moore argued that while a preemptive war may be morally and legally justified, a preventive war is unworthy of any law-abiding nation and a violation of international law.

In 2001, U.S. News and World Report quoted Henry Kissinger as saying, "Rumsfeld afforded me a close-up look at a special Washington phenomenon: the skilled full-time politician bureaucrat in whom ambition, ability, and substance fuse seamlessly."

Private Citizen

Rumsfeld's civic activities have included service on the Boards of Trustees of the Chicago Historical Society, Eisenhower Exchange Fellowships, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the Rand Corporation, and the National Park Foundation.

Among honors that have come to Rumsfeld are the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award (1975), the George Catlett Marshall Award (1984), the Woodrow Wilson Award (1985), the Dwight Eisenhower Medal (1993), and many honorary degrees. In 1977, he was awarded the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Rumsfeld married Joyce Pierson in 1954. They have three children and several grandchildren. Rumsfeld has a ranch in Taos, New Mexico, where he skis and sometimes ropes cattle.


Krames, Jeffrey A., The Rumsfeld Way, McGraw-Hill, 2002.


Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January-February 2003.

U.S. News & World Report, December 17, 2001.


"The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense," (January 2003).

"The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld," (January 2003).