Lewis Strauss

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Lewis Strauss
Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss pers0164.jpg
Acting United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
November 13, 1958 – June 30, 1959
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded bySinclair Weeks
Succeeded byFrederick H. Mueller
Chairman, United States Atomic Energy Commission
In office
July 2, 1953 – June 30, 1958
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byGordon Dean
Succeeded byJohn A. McCone
Member of the United States Atomic Energy Commission
In office
November 12, 1946 – April 15, 1950
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Preceded byNone (office created)
Succeeded byT. Keith Glennan
Personal details
Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss

(1896-01-31)January 31, 1896
Charleston, West Virginia, U.S.
DiedJanuary 21, 1974(1974-01-21) (aged 77)
Brandy Station, Virginia, U.S.
Resting placeHebrew Cemetery (Richmond, Virginia)
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Alice Hanauer
  • Investment banker
  • government official
Civilian awardsMedal of Freedom
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1941–1945
RankUS Navy O7 infobox.svg Rear admiral
UnitBureau of Ordnance
Military awardsLegion of Merit

Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss (/ˈstrɔːz/ "straws"; January 31, 1896 – January 21, 1974) was an American businessman, philanthropist, public official, and naval officer. He was a major figure in the development of nuclear weapons, the nuclear energy policy of the United States, and nuclear power in the United States.[1][2]

Strauss was the driving force in the controversial hearings, held in April 1954 before a U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Personnel Security Board, in which J. Robert Oppenheimer's security clearance was revoked. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's nomination of Strauss to become U.S. Secretary of Commerce in 1959 was not confirmed by the Senate.

Early life[edit]

Strauss was born in Charleston, West Virginia,[2] the son of Rosa (Lichtenstein) and Lewis Strauss, a successful shoe wholesaler.[3] Their parents were German and Austrian Jews who came to the United States in the 1830s and 1840s and settled in Virginia.[4] His family moved to Richmond, Virginia and he grew up there,[5] where he attended public schools.[6] At the age of 10, he permanently lost the vision in his right eye in a rock fight, which later disqualified him from normal military service. He was valedictorian of his high school class, but typhoid fever in his senior year made him unable to graduate with his class.[7]

Strauss had planned to study physics at the University of Virginia,[7] which he developed an amateur's knowledge of from reading textbooks.[5] When he finally graduated from high school, his family's business had had a downturn, and they could not afford to send him.[8] Instead Strauss worked as a traveling shoe salesman for his father's company.[9][5] He was quite successful;[10] over the next three years, he was the company's top salesman and saved enough money for college tuition.

World War I[edit]

American food administrators in July 1918: Hoover is on the far left, Strauss third from left

However, Strauss's mother encouraged him to perform public or humanitarian service.[10] It was 1917; World War I was raging in Europe, and Herbert Hoover was head of the United States Food Administration (USFA).[9] Strauss volunteered to serve without pay as Hoover's assistant.[11] Strauss worked well and soon was promoted to Hoover's private secretary and confidant.[5] In that position he made powerful contacts that would serve him later on. One such contact he made was with Harvey Hollister Bundy.[9] His service with the USFA lasted until 1919.

Strauss became a man of influence: acting on behalf of a representative of Finland, he persuaded Hoover to urge President Woodrow Wilson to recognize Finland's independence from Russia.[citation needed]

Besides the USFA and its successor, the American Relief Administration, Strauss worked with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JJDC) to relieve the suffering of Jewish refugees, who were often neglected by other bodies. The poor treatment of Polish and Russian Jews that Strauss witnessed instilled in him a powerful anti-Communist sentiment.[citation needed]

Business career[edit]

At the JJDC, Strauss came to the attention of Felix M. Warburg, a partner in the investment bank Kuhn, Loeb & Co. in New York City. In addition Hoover had introduced Strauss to Mortimer Schiff, another partner of Kuhn Loeb.[2][5]

Warburg brought Strauss to Kuhn Loeb.[citation needed] Strauss started there in 1919.[5] He became a full partner in 1929, at which point he was making a million dollars a year, and he endured the Wall Street Crash of 1929 without bad financial damage.[9] With the firm he helped bring to market Kodachrome film for Eastman Kodak and the Polaroid camera for Edwin H. Land.[5]

Strauss and his wife Alice, p. 1923–26

In 1923, Strauss married Alice Hanauer.[3] Born in 1903, she was the daughter of Jerome J. Hanauer,[12] who was one of the Kuhn Loeb partners.[9] She was a New York native who had attended Vassar College and was a skilled equestrian and potter.[12] The couple had two sons, one of whom did not survive infancy.[12] While in New York, they lived on Central Park West.[13]

He was active in the firm until 1941. In his role as an investment banker, Strauss became wealthy,[14] and given his humble original circumstances he has been considered a self-made millionaire and a Horatio Alger tale.[9][5] As one historian has written, Strauss's business success was the residue of "luck, pluck, hard work, and good contacts".[10] Due to his lack of higher education, Strauss has also been characterized as an autodidact.[15]

Strauss worked for the successful campaign of Hoover in the United States presidential election, 1928, and was a member from Virginia that year of the Republican National Committee.[3] During the 1930s, following Hoover's re-election defeat, Strauss was a strong opponent of the New Deal.[16]

Lay religious activities[edit]

A proudly religious man,[17] Strauss became a leader in Jewish causes and organizations. For instance, in 1933 he was a member of the Executive Committee of the American Jewish Committee. However, he was not a Zionist and opposed the establishment of a Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine. He instead supported assimilation of Jews as equal citizens of the nations in which they lived.

He recognized the brutality of governments like Nazi Germany. Strauss first made his concern known in early 1933, writing to President Hoover during the final weeks of his time in office.[18] He unsuccessfully attempted to convince Congressional Republicans to legislatively allow the entry of 20,000 refugee children.[19] In 1938, he joined with Hoover and Bernard Baruch in supporting the establishment of a refugee state in Africa as a safe haven for all persecuted people, not just Jews, and pledged ten percent of his wealth towards it, but that effort did not materialize.[19] Strauss subsequently wrote: "The years from 1933 to the outbreak of World War II will ever be a nightmare to me, and the puny efforts I made to alleviate the tragedies were utter failures, save in a few individual cases—pitifully few."[20]

Strauss was president of Congregation Emanu-El of New York, the largest such in New York City, for a decade,[21] from 1938 to 1948.[5] Strauss succeeded in Washington's social and political world despite it being notoriously anti-Semitic at the time.[21] He was proud of his Southern upbringing as well as his religion, and insisted his name be pronounced as 'Straws' rather than the usual Germanic form.[22][23]

World War II[edit]

Despite his disqualification for regular military duty, Strauss applied to join the US Navy Reserve in 1925, becoming effective 1926,[3] and he received an officer's commission as an intelligence officer. In 1939 and 1940, as World War II began, he volunteered for active duty. He wanted to go into intelligence but was blocked, reportedly because the Director of Naval Intelligence, U.S. Navy was prejudiced against Jews.[19] Instead in February 1941, he was called to active duty[6] and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance, where he helped organize and manage Navy munitions work.[1] Strauss and his wife moved to Washington, D.C.; she served as an operating room nurse's aide during this period.[12]

Strauss rose in rank due to a combination of his intelligence, personal energy, and ability to find favor in higher places.[14] His contributions were recognized by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, and he served on the Army-Navy Munitions Board and the Naval Reserve Policy Board.[citation needed]

When James V. Forrestal succeeded Knox in 1944, he employed Strauss as his special assistant.[22] In November 1945, after the war, Strauss was promoted to Rear Admiral by President Truman.[24] As a Reserve Rear Admiral,[15] he liked being addressed as "Admiral Strauss", even though use of the honorific perturbed some regular officers who considered him a civilian.[5] By this time, Strauss had taken advantage of his ties in both Washington and Wall Street to enter the post-war establishment in the capital.[22] He was also learning how to get things accomplished in Washington via unofficial back channels, something he would become quite adept at.[25]

Atomic bomb[edit]

His mother died of cancer in 1935, his father of the same disease in 1937. That and his early interest in physics made Strauss establish a fund for physics research that could lead to better radiation treatment for cancer patients. The fund supported Arno Brasch, who was working on producing artificial radioactive material with bursts of X-rays.[26] Brasch's work was based on previous work with Leo Szilard, who saw in this work a possible means to developing an atomic chain reaction. Szilard had already foreseen that this could lead to an atomic bomb. Szilard persuaded Strauss to support him and Brasch in building a "surge generator".[27] Strauss ultimately provided tens of thousands of dollars to this venture.[28]

Through Szilard, Strauss met other nuclear physicists such as Ernest Lawrence.[29] Strauss talked to physicists who had left Nazi Germany and learned about atom-related experiments that had taken place there.[30] Szilard kept him up to date on developments in the area, such as the discovery of nuclear fission and the use of neutrons.[31] In February 1940, Szilard asked him to fund the acquisition of some radium, but Strauss refused, as he had already spent a large sum.[32]

Strauss had no further direct involvement with atomic-bomb development during the war. At the end of the war, when the first atomic bombs were ready for use, Strauss advocated to Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal dropping one on a symbolic target, such as a Japanese cedar grove near Nikkō, Tochigi, as a warning shot.[33] In subsequent years Strauss would say in interviews, "I did my best to prevent it. The Japanese were defeated before the bomb was used."[6]

After the war, Strauss recommended a test of the atomic bomb against a number of modern warships, which he thought would refute the idea that the atomic bomb made the Navy obsolete. That led to Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll, the first atomic bomb test after Trinity.[34]

Atomic Energy Commission[edit]

The five original commissioners of the AEC in 1947; Strauss is rightmost

In 1947, the US transferred control of atomic research from the Army to civilian authority under the newly created Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Strauss was appointed by President Harry S. Truman as one of the first five Commissioners.[35] He had been recommended for a position on the bipartisan commission by Admiral Paul Frederick Foster, a longtime friend for whom Strauss had earlier provided contacts in the business world (and who had subsequently helped Strauss get his active duty assignment).[36] Once there, Strauss became one of the first commissioners who speak in dissent from existing policy.[14] He served on the AEC in his first stint until 1950.

One of Strauss's first actions on the AEC was to urge his fellow commissioners to set up the capability to monitor foreign atomic activity via atmospheric testing.[37] In particular, he saw that WB-29 Superfortress aircraft equipped with radiological tests could run regular "sniffer" flights to monitor the upper atmosphere to detect any atomic tests by the Soviet Union.[38] Other people in government and science, including Oppenheimer and Edward Teller, argued that the radiological approach would not work, but Strauss and the newly formed United States Air Force continued on regardless.[38] Several days after the first atomic bomb test by the Soviet Union in August 1949, a WB-29 flight did in fact detect evidence of the test.[39] While Strauss was not the only person who had been urging long-range detection capabilities,[38] it was largely due to his efforts that the United States was able to detect that the Soviet Union had become a nuclear power.[14]

Strauss believed in a fundamental premise of the Cold War, that the Soviet Union was determined on a course of world domination; as such he believed in having a more powerful nuclear force than the Soviets and in maintaining secrecy about U.S. nuclear activities.[5] As a Commissioner, Strauss was very disturbed by the security breaches that were revealed in the postwar years, including the presence of Soviet spies in the Manhattan Project. He supported draconian measures to improve security, including the removal of scientists with "questionable" backgrounds, including many who had played major roles in the wartime research. He opposed the broad co-operation with the United Kingdom that had been informally promised by Franklin D. Roosevelt.[citation needed] Strauss was known for his psychological rigidity; one of his fellow commissioners reportedly said, "If you disagree with Lewis about anything, he assumes you're just a fool at first. But if you go on disagreeing with him, he concludes you must be a traitor."[21] Strauss was increasingly unhappy in his position, but President Truman asked him to stay on.[citation needed]

The first atomic bomb test by the Soviet Union in August 1949 came earlier than expected by Americans, and over the next several months there was an intense debate within the U.S. government, military, and scientific communities regarding whether to proceed with development of the far more powerful hydrogen bomb, then known as "the Super".[40] Strauss urged for the United States to move immediately to develop it,[2][5] writing to his fellow commissioners on October 5 that "the time has come for a quantum jump in our planning ... we should make an intensive effort to get ahead with the super."[41] In particular Strauss was unswayed by moral arguments against going forward, seeing no real difference between using it and the atomic bomb or the boosted fission weapon that some H-bomb opponents were advocating as an alternative.[42] The religious Strauss had no doubt about what the Soviets would do, writing in a letter to Truman that "a government of atheists is not likely to be dissuaded from producing the weapon on 'moral' grounds."[43]

When Truman signed the directive for hydrogen bomb development in 1950, Strauss, considering that he had accomplished as much as he could, resigned the same day.[clarification needed] His last day on the commission was April 15, 1950.[44]

Strauss became a financial adviser to the Rockefeller brothers during the years 1950 to 1953,[3] but continued to take an interest in atomic affairs.

In the United States presidential election, 1952, Strauss originally supported Robert A. Taft for the Republican Party nomination.[45] Once Dwight D. Eisenhower secured the nod, however, Strauss contributed substantial monies towards Eisenhower's campaign.[46] In January 1953, President Eisenhower named Strauss as presidential atomic energy advisor.[46] Then in July 1953, Eisenhower named Strauss as chairman of the AEC.[46]

Eisenhower signing a modification of the Atomic Energy Act in 1954; Strauss is seated on the far right

While Strauss had initially opposed Eisenhower's push for Operation Candor, his view and the administration's goals both evolved, and he endorsed the "Atoms for Peace" program, which Eisenhower announced in December 1953.[47] Strauss was now one of the best known advocates of atomic energy for many purposes. In part, he celebrated the promise of peaceful use of atomic energy as part of a conscious effort to divert attention away from the dangers of nuclear warfare.[48] Nevertheless, Strauss, like Eisenhower, did sincerely believe in and hope for the potential of peaceful uses.[49] In 1955 Strauss helped arrange the U.S. participation in the first international conference on peaceful uses of atomic energy, held in Geneva.[50] Strauss held Soviet capabilities in high regard, saying after the conference that "in the realm of pure science the Soviets had astonished us by their achievements ... [the Russians] could be described in no sense as technically backward."[51]

In 1954, Strauss predicted that atomic power would make electricity "too cheap to meter".[52][53] Regarded as fanciful even at the time, the quote is now seen as damaging to the industry's credibility.[54] Strauss was possibly referring to Project Sherwood, a secret program to develop power from hydrogen fusion, rather the commonly-believed uranium fission reactors.[55][56] Indeed, on the run-up to a 1958 Geneva conference on atomic power, Strauss offered substantial funding to three laboratories for fusion power research.[49]

Following the unexpectedly large blast of the Castle Bravo thermonuclear test of March 1954 at Bikini Atoll, there was international concern over the radioactive fallout experienced by residents of nearby Rongelap Atoll and Utirik Atoll and by a Japanese fishing vessel.[57][58] The AEC initially tried to keep the contamination secret, and then tried to minimize the health dangers of fallout.[59] Voices began to be heard for a ban or limitation on atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.[58] Strauss himself downplayed dangers from fallout and insisted that it was vital that a program of atmospheric blasts proceed unhindered.[58]

Eisenhower and Strauss discuss Operation Castle, 1954.

Internal debate ensued over the next several years within the Eisenhower administration over the possibility of an atmospheric test ban with the Soviet Union, with some in favor of trying to arrange one, but Strauss was always one of those implacably opposed.[60] Strauss would continue to minimize the dangers of Bravo fallout to the islanders of the atolls, insisting in his 1962 memoirs that they had been under "continuous and competent medical supervision" and that follow-up tests showed them to be in "excellent health [and] their blood counts were approximately normal".[61] Others in the AEC were equally cavalier.[62] In fact, AEC scientists had seen the islanders as a valuable laboratory case of human exposure.[59] The Limited Test Ban Treaty banning atmospheric tests would not be arrived at until 1963,[63] and the U.S. government engage in a series of reevaluations of the health of the islanders, and relocation and economic packages to compensate them, over the next several decades.[64] Strauss and others in the AEC were also dismissive of the dangers Americans faced who were downwind of the Nevada Test Site.[62]

The Sputnik crisis of 1957 led Eisenhower to create the President's Science Advisory Committee. Once that body was in place, Eisenhower began to directly receive a broader selection of scientific information; Strauss lost his ability to control scientists' access to the president and his influence in the administration began to recede.[65]

Strauss and Oppenheimer[edit]

During his term as an AEC commissioner, Strauss became hostile to J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who had been scientific director of the Manhattan Project.

In 1947, Strauss, a trustee of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, presented Oppenheimer with the institute's offer to be its director. (Strauss himself, as a man of high intelligence and financial skills if not higher education, had also been considered for the job; he was the Institute's faculty's fifth-ranked choice, while Oppenheimer was their first-ranked.[66]) Strauss, a conservative Republican, had little in common with Oppenheimer, a liberal who had had Communist associations. Oppenheimer opposed hydrogen-bomb research and proposed a national security strategy based on nuclear weapons and continental defense; Strauss wanted the development of thermonuclear weapons and a doctrine of deterrence. Oppenheimer supported a policy of "candor" regarding the numbers and capabilities of the atomic weapons in America's arsenal; Strauss believed that such unilateral frankness would benefit no one but Soviet military planners.[67]

When Eisenhower offered Strauss the AEC chairmanship, Strauss named one condition: Oppenheimer would be excluded from all classified atomic work.[68] Oppenheimer then sat on the General Advisory Committee (GAC) of senior atomic scientists, which reported to the AEC and held a Q clearance. He was one of the most respected figures in atomic science, even briefing the President and National Security Council in 1953.

Strauss, however, deeply distrusted Oppenheimer. He had become aware of Oppenheimer's former Communist affiliations before World War II and questionable behavior during the war, and he began to think that Oppenheimer might even be a Soviet spy. Strauss was also suspicious of Oppenheimer's tendency to downplay Soviet capabilities. In 1953, Oppenheimer stated in the July edition of Foreign Affairs that he believed the Soviets were "about four years behind" in atomic weapons development. The US had exploded the first thermonuclear device the previous year, but it required a two-story building filled with refrigeration equipment to chill the liquid hydrogen. However, only a month after Oppenheimer made his proclamation, in August 1953, the Soviet Union declared and US sensors confirmed that it had tested its own hydrogen bomb. (It was not, however, a staged thermonuclear weapon of the Teller-Ulam design. Scholars have debated for some time whether the Soviet Joe 4 device should be considered a true hydrogen bomb. The first Soviet test of an undisputedly "true" hydrogen bomb was not until 1955.) Since the Soviet device relied on solid lithium-6 deuteride, rather than liquid hydrogen, to boost the yield, the Soviet device was the first truly-deliverable thermonuclear weapon, although 80-85 percent of the yield came from nuclear fission rather than fusion.[excessive detail?][69]

In September 1953, Strauss, hoping to uncover evidence of Oppenheimer's disloyalty, asked FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to initiate surveillance to track Oppenheimer's movements. Hoover agreed enthusiastically. The tracking uncovered no evidence of disloyalty but that Oppenheimer had lied to Strauss about his reason for taking a trip to Washington (Oppenheimer met a journalist but had told Strauss that he had visited the White House).[70] Strauss' suspicions increased further with the discovery that Oppenheimer had tried to stop America's long-range detection system in 1948 and 1949, which was the time frame when the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic weapon. In December 1953, the FBI notified Strauss that it would not watch Oppenheimer more closely without a specific request, which Strauss provided. Hoover then ordered full surveillance on Oppenheimer, including illegally tapping his phones.[71]

At first Strauss moved cautiously, even heading off an attack on Oppenheimer by Senator Joseph McCarthy.[72] He had the AEC staff compile a list of charges and surprised Oppenheimer with them in December 1953.

Strauss is perhaps most remembered as the driving force in the month-long hearings, held in April and May 1954, before an AEC Personnel Security Board that resulted in Oppenheimer's security clearance being revoked. Strauss had access to the FBI's information on Oppenheimer, including his conversations with his lawyers,[73] which was used to prepare counterarguments in advance. In the end, despite the support of numerous leading scientists and other prominent figures, Oppenheimer was stripped of his clearance, one day before it would have expired anyway, as Strauss had wanted. Strauss's role has been described as a witch-hunter, pursuing a vendetta fueled equally by personal dislike and paranoid suspicions.[74][75][76]

Secretary of Commerce nomination[edit]

His term as AEC chair completed at the end of June 1958.[44] Eisenhower wanted to reappoint him,[citation needed] but Strauss feared the Senate would reject or at least subject him to ferocious questioning. Besides the Oppenheimer affair, he had clashed with Senate Democrats on several major issues, including his autocratic nature as AEC chair and his secretive handling of the Dixon-Yates contract.[77]

Eisenhower offered him the post of White House Chief of Staff,[citation needed] but Strauss did not think that it would suit him. Eisenhower also asked if Strauss would consider succeeding John Foster Dulles (who was ill) as Secretary of State, but Strauss did not want to pre-empt Undersecretary Christian Herter, who was a good friend.

Finally, Eisenhower proposed that Strauss become Secretary of Commerce, which Strauss accepted. He took office as an interim appointee in November 1958. However, Senate opposition to this appointment was as strong as to a renewed AEC term. At the time, the previous 13 nominees for this Cabinet position won Senate confirmation in an average of eight days.[78] Due to a long-running feud between the two,[79] Senator Clinton Presba Anderson took up the cause to make sure that Strauss would not be confirmed by the Senate. Senator Anderson found an ally in Senator Gale W. McGee on the Senate Commerce Committee, which had jurisdiction over Strauss's confirmation.

During and after the Senate hearings, McGee had charged Strauss with "a brazen attempt to hoodwink" the committee.[78] Strauss also overstated his backing of the development of the H-bomb, implying that he had convinced Truman to support it; Truman was annoyed by this, and sent a letter to Anderson undermining Strauss's claim, a letter than Anderson promptly leaked to the press.[80] Strauss attempted to reach Truman through an intermediary to rescue the situation, but was rebuffed and felt bitter at the lack of support.[81] A group of scientists who were still upset over the role Strauss had played in the Oppenheimer hearings lobbied against confirmation, calling themselves the Last Straws Committee.[23]

After 16 days of hearings the Committee recommended Strauss' confirmation to the full Senate by a vote of 9–8. In preparation for the floor debate on the nomination, the Democratic majority's main argument against the nomination was that Strauss's statements before the committee were "sprinkled with half truths and even lies... and that under rough and hostile questioning, [he] can be evasive and quibblesome."[78] Despite an overwhelming Democratic majority, the 86th United States Congress was not able to accomplish much of its agenda since the President had immense popularity and a veto pen.[78] With the 1960 elections nearing, congressional Democrats sought issues on which they could conspicuously oppose the Republican administration. The Strauss nomination proved tailor-made.[82] On June 19, 1959, just after midnight, the Strauss nomination failed by a vote 46–49. At the time, It marked only the eighth time in US history that a Cabinet appointee had failed to be confirmed.[1][83]

Final years[edit]

The Commerce defeat effectively ended his government career. The numerous enemies that Strauss had made during his career took some pleasure from the turn of events.[23] Reportedly, Strauss never recovered.[84] In any case, he brooded over events past.[85]

Strauss published his memoirs, Men and Decisions, in 1962. During his retirement he devoted time to philanthropic activities,[5] and to the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the Alliance Israélite Universelle.[30] He lived on a 2,000-acre farm,[6] where he engaged in cattle breeding[86] and raised prized Black Angus.[2] A book he was working on about Herbert Hoover was never completed.[5]

Strauss died of leukemia [87] at his home, the Brandy Rock Farm, in Brandy Station, Virginia.[5] His funeral was held back in New York at Temple Emanu-El and there was also a memorial service held in the capital at Washington Hebrew Congregation.[88] He is buried in Richmond Hebrew Cemetery along with more than sixty other family members.[89]

Alice Hanauer Strauss lived until 2004, when she died at age 101 in Brandy Station.[12]


The Oppenheimer matter quickly became a cause célèbre, with Strauss frequently being cast in the role of villain,[90] an image that would persist over the next several years,[91] and then on beyond that.[92] Strauss had his defenders as well, who saw the hero and villain roles as being reversed.[90] But Strauss was not so simply categorized in either direction; a mid-1950s interviewer found him bland and courteous in one session but prickly and temperamental in a second session.[91] As the New York Times' front-page obituary of Strauss stated,

For about a dozen years at the outset of the atomic age Lewis Strauss, an urbane but sometimes thorny former banker with a gifted amateur's knowledge of physics, was a key figure in the shaping of United States thermonuclear policy. ... In the years of his mightiest influence in Washington, the owlish‐faced Mr. Strauss puzzled most observers. He was, on the one hand, a sociable person who enjoyed dinner parties and who was adept at prestidigitation; and, on the other hand, he gave the impression of intellectual arrogance. He could he warm-hearted yet seem at times like a stuffed shirt. He could make friends yet create antagonisms.[5]

At the start of his 1962 memoir, Strauss states his belief that "the right to live in the social order established [at the American founding] is so priceless a privilege that no sacrifice to preserve it is too great."[4] This sentiment became the interpretative framework for Richard Pfau's 1984 biography of Strauss, which was authorized by the Strauss estate.[93] In it, Pfau acknowledges the ugly and unlawful episodes in Strauss's life, but presents them as the acts of a man with integrity who felt compelled to do what was necessary to protect the nation.[94] Historian Barton J. Bernstein disagrees with this approach, saying that the framework is too generous and that Pfau errs in "seeing Strauss as a man of great integrity (Strauss's own claim) rather than as a man who used such claims to conceal sleazy behavior."[93]

Decades after his passing, historians continue to examine Strauss's records and actions. Scholar of the early Cold War period Ken Young has studied the historiography of H-bomb development and scrutinized the role that Strauss played in trying to form that history to his benefit.[95] In particular, Young has looked at the publication during 1953 and 1954 of a popular magazine article and book that promoted a highly distorted notion of a hydrogen bomb project had been unreasonably stalled, both before Truman's decision and after, by a small group of American scientists working against the national interest and that Strauss was one of the heroes who had overcome this cabal's efforts.[96] Young points to circumstantial archival evidence that Strauss was behind both publications and may well have given classified information to the book authors involved (James R. Shepley and Clay Blair Jr.).[97] Along the same lines, historian Priscilla Johnson McMillan has made the evidentiary case that Strauss was likely behind Eisenhower's famous "blank wall" directive to separate Oppenheimer from nuclear secrets.[98] Furthermore, McMillan has identified archival evidence which suggests to some degree that Strauss was in collusion with William L. Borden, the congressional staff member who wrote the November 1953 letter that triggered the Oppenheimer security hearing.[99]

Even Strauss's smaller deceptions, such as concocting an excuse to publish the transcript of the Oppenheimer security hearing even though witnesses had been promised their testimony would remain secret, rebounded against him, as the transcript showed how the hearing had taken the form of an inquisition.[100] In the end, Strauss was undone by his own character and actions.[79]

Awards and honors[edit]

Strauss, then with the rank of captain, was awarded a Legion of Merit by the Navy in September 1944 for his work on Navy requirements regarding contract termination and disposal of surplus property.[13]

In 1955, Strauss received a silver plaque from the Men's Club of Temple Emanu-El for "distinguished service"; President Eisenhower sent a message to the ceremony saying the honor was well-deserved.[101]

On July 14, 1958, Strauss was presented with the Medal of Freedom by President Eisenhower.[102]

Strauss served on boards of directors for several corporations, one of which was the United States Rubber Company.[6]

See also[edit]


  • Strauss, Lewis L. Men and Decisions (Doubleday & Company, 1962).


  • The American Presidency Project
  • Bernstein, Barton J. (Spring 1986). "Sacrifices and Decisions: Lewis L. Strauss". The Public Historian. 8 (2): 105–120. JSTOR 3377436.
  • Bird, Kai; Sherwin, Martin J. (2005). American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-375-41202-8. OCLC 56753298.
  • Bundy, McGeorge (1988). Danger and Survival: Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-52278-8.
  • Holloway, David (1994). Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939–1956. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-06056-4.
  • McMillan, Priscilla Johnson (2005). The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-03422-3.
  • Makhijani, Arjun; Schwartz, Stephen I. (1998). "Victims of the Bomb". In Schwartz, Stephen I. (ed.). Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press. pp. 395–432. ISBN 0-8157-7773-6.
  • Pfau, Richard (1984). No Sacrifice Too Great: The Life of Lewis L. Strauss. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 978-0-8139-1038-3.
  • Rhodes, Richard (1986), The Making of the Atomic Bomb, New York: Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-671-44133-7
  • Rhodes, Richard (1995), Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, New York: Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-684-80400-X
  • Young, Ken (2013). "The Hydrogen Bomb, Lewis L. Strauss and the Writing of Nuclear History". Journal of Strategic Studies. 36 (6).
  • Young, Ken; Schilling, Warner R. (2019). Super Bomb: Organizational Conflict and the Development of the Hydrogen Bomb. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1-5017-4516-4.


  1. ^ a b c "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-09-07. Retrieved 2009-08-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e "Ex-AEC chief Lewis Strauss dies". The Morning News. Wilmington, Delaware. United Press International. January 22, 1974. p. 33 – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ a b c d e Source is westvirginiajewishhistory.com, accessed December 3, 2005
  4. ^ a b Strauss, Men and Decisions, p. 1.
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  52. ^ Too Cheap to Meter?
  53. ^ Full text of speech
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  98. ^ McMillan, Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer, p. 302n7.
  99. ^ McMillan, Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer, pp. 173, 175–176, 301n9, 301n13.
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  102. ^ Pfau, No Sacrifice Too Great, p. 222.

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