James R. Killian, Jr., Sputnik, and Eisenhower: White House Science Advice and the Reformation of American Science Education, 1955-1958

Dallas A. Grubbs '12, Gettysburg College


This paper chronicles the often-overlooked relationship between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Dr. James R. Killian, Jr., the first-ever appointed Presidential Science Advisor. Emphasis is placed on the role of Dr. Killian and the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) in advocating curricular reform in the fields of science and mathematics, a reformation which became doubly important following the successful launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I in 1957. This essay examines the efforts of Eisenhower and Killian to keep pace with the Russian scientific advances by improving American education in the scientific and technical fields. It concludes with a discussion of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and Killian’s efforts to see the piece of legislation enacted.