Eisenhowers in Washington State: Big Ike and Little Ike

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 10/28/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9199
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Edgar Eisenhower (1889-1971), brother of Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), passed the Washington state bar examination on October 18, 1914. Edgar, one of six brothers including the United States president, spent the next 50 years as a Tacoma lawyer. He would also become an outstanding golfer, but was best known as a vocal critic of his brother Dwight, the president. Dwight Eisenhower visited Tacoma in 1938 and in 1940 he reported for duty at Fort Lewis. This assignment gave him the experience and confidence needed to lead the World War II European campaign and serve as the nation’s 34th president. General and President Eisenhower would visit the state a number of times following his Fort Lewis assignment.

The Brothers Eisenhower 

On October 18, 1914, the Washington state bar examination results were made public. Edgar Newton Eisenhower, who had arrived two months earlier, had passed. He would become a life-long Tacoma resident, a prominent attorney, champion golfer, and outspoken critic of his brother, President Dwight David Eisenhower.

Earl (1898-1968), another of the six Eisenhower brothers (Dwight, Edgar, Arthur [1886-1958], Roy [1892-1942], Earl, and Milton [1899-1985]), would come to Washington in 1917. Finally, Dwight would come to Tacoma and Fort Lewis in 1938.   

Big Ike and Little Ike

Edgar and Dwight attended high school together (Abilene High School, Abilene, Kansas). The older brother, Edgar, had dropped out of the eighth grade to work, but returned to finish high school. The two brothers were known as Big Ike (Edgar) and Little Ike (Dwight). Schoolmates considered Eisenhower too long a name. Dwight would retain the nickname Ike whereas Edgar dropped it. The brothers graduated in 1909. Edgar decided to attend the University of Michigan law school. His father opposed the choice and refused to help him. Uncle Chris Musser (1863-1950) and Dwight provided assistance.    

Edgar graduated in 1914, in the top half of the class. A classmate, Charles W. Johnson from Tacoma, convinced him that Tacoma would be the best place to practice law. Eisenhower expected unpaved streets and the Wild West. Instead he found refinement. A local lawyer, Charlie Peterson, helped him survive while he prepared for and passed the Washington bar exam. Edgar then practiced law with Bates, Peer and Peterson until 1921.

Edgar and Earl

Brother Earl Eisenhower arrived in Washington state in 1917 to attend the University of Washington and study engineering. Edgar, remembering the help he received to get through law school, invited Earl to stay at their Tacoma home and covered his college costs. Earl took time off from his studies to work at the Todd Shipyards, but returned to the university and graduated in 1923 with an electrical engineering degree. Following a stint on a passenger ship, Earl became an engineer in Pennsylvania, and then in Illinois.

Back in Tacoma, Edgar practiced criminal law for 10 years and then corporate law. He was known to provide free services for poor clients.  

In 1921 Edgar established his own law firm that continues to the present as Eisenhower and Carlson, PLLC, Tacoma and Seattle. 

Edgar's Lives

Edgar and his wife Louise Alexander (1894-1946), lived at 1312 N Alder Street and in 1925 moved to 3109 N 20th Street in Tacoma. They had a son, Jack Merrill (1916-1956), and a daughter, Janis (1922-2000). 

Janis Eisenhower Causin remained in the area and became a noted Gig Harbor artist. Louise and Edgar divorced in 1940. Edgar soon married Bernice Thompson and they lived in a modest brick home on the west side of American Lake, Lakewood, where Edgar would live for the rest of his life. Bernice died in 1948. In December 1950, Edgar married his secretary, Lucille “Lucy” Dawson, during a ceremony in the American Lake home. They divorced in 1967.

Eisenhower and Fort Lewis  

In October 1938, Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower, serving in the Philippines, visited Tacoma and Fort Lewis. Anxious to get an assignment leading troops, Ike looked over the post and discussed a Fort Lewis posting with his friend Major Mark Clark (1896-1984). One of the army’s best regiments, the 15th, was coming to the fort from China duty. Clark and Eisenhower exchanged letters and made contacts to get a Fort Lewis assignment.

Ike received his orders in the fall of 1939 and departed in December. The family arrived at the Port of San Francisco on January 6, 1940. Upon arrival Eisenhower had temporary duty at the Presidio of San Francisco. Mamie (1896-1979) and son John (b. 1922) went on to Fort Lewis, unpacked their furniture, and moved into a very nice home in the post’s Broadmoor neighborhood.   

One month later Eisenhower reported for duty as commander 1st Battalion, 15th Regiment, and regimental executive officer. Ike loved the assignment, especially being able to lead troops and try out innovative military strategies. The regimental commander allowed him great freedom and considerable authority to test military tactics. His work schedule was tremendously demanding, leaving little time for social activities such as golf or getting together with Edgar, who lived nearby. Ike and Mamie participated in Fort Lewis officer’s club activities and had cookouts for friends. Mamie encouraged Ike to plant a garden in their backyard as a way to manage stress.    

In November 1940 Ike became Chief of Staff, 3rd Division, and further advanced with promotion to Colonel and Chief of Staff IX Corps in March 1941. Fort Lewis gave Eisenhower the troop training and strategy experience needed for future success. This became critical in shaping his, the army’s, and the nation’s future. At Fort Lewis, Colonel Eisenhower demonstrated his outstanding leadership capabilities.   

Family Matters

Dwight and Mamie's son, John Eisenhower, attended Tacoma’s Stadium High. As graduation neared, he considered his future. His Uncle Edgar offered to pay his way through law school and have him join his firm. Edgar wanted an Eisenhower to succeed him since his estranged son Jack had no interest in law. However John Eisenhower decided to attend West Point and became an army officer. He retired as a Brigadier General in the Army Reserve. Edgar gained some satisfaction in his brother Roy’s (1892-1942) son, Lloyd Edgar Eisenhower (1925-1974), who became a lawyer.

War Years and After 

At the end of June 1941, the Dwight Eisenhowers departed Fort Lewis on orders to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In October 1941 he earned his first star, becoming a Brigadier General. With the advent of war, he rapidly advanced and in January 1944 he was named Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Following the war Eisenhower served as Army Chief of Staff, 1945-1948, and in that capacity visited Fort Lewis and McChord Field. In February 1946, Ike boarded a military plane in Washington, D.C., headed to Tacoma. As he had done many times, Ike showed true concern for the common soldier. Spotting Private Lester J. Tibbetts of Seattle, who was anxious to get to Fort Lewis and his discharge, Ike offered him a seat. Eisenhower arrived on February 20 and spent two days inspecting Fort Lewis and McChord Field. He spoke at Madigan Army Hospital before 2,000 soldiers who packed the Red Cross Hall. The next year he returned to review 11,000 soldiers of the 2nd Infantry, many of them World War II combat veterans. Ike told the troops assembled on the parade field that he was honored to be with them. In 1953 Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President of the United States.  

In 1955 the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce placed a plaque in the sidewalk in front of the Eisenhower house (2310 Clark Road). The plaque reads that the 34th President of the United States and General of the Army lived here 1940-1941. Also, that his career, founded on duty, honor, and country serves as an inspiration to the officers and men of the United States Army.  

Edgar and Ike

At the end of the war, Ike could spend more time on the golf course pursuing a sport he loved. Ike’s golf game would garner a great deal of attention and he became a most important person in the transition of golf from play to a sport. He helped create golf as we know it today. But, interestingly, Edgar was the much better golfer, winning tournaments over a 20-year span. Edgar's victories included the Tacoma Country Club championship in 1955, a 1958 Pacific Northwest Seniors championship and Washington State Seniors championship. Edgar regularly golfed at the Tacoma Country Club where he shot below par, and won the club seniors championship in 1965. At age 69 he shot below his age with a 67.  

During the Eisenhower presidency, Edgar received national attention as a critic of his brother. Described in the media as a shoot-from-the-hip ultraconservative, Edgar openly supported right-wing organizations. Edgar criticized Ike’s budgets, policies, and judicial nominations. When the press asked Ike about the criticism, he smiled and responded that Edgar had been "criticizing me since I was 5 years old" (Time).  

President Eisenhower visited the state a number of times. He dedicated McNary Dam in September 1954. On October 18, 1956 he addressed a crowd of 8,000 at the University (College) of Puget Sound. He stayed at Edgar’s home on American Lake. During a November 1958 visit with Edgar they planned to golf at the Tacoma Country Club, but were rained out.   

Last Years

On March 28, 1969, General of the Army and former President Dwight David Eisenhower died at Walter Reed Hospital. His two surviving brothers, Edgar and Milton (1899-1985), attended the Washington, D.C., funeral and served as honorary pallbearers. General Eisenhower and Mamie are buried in a chapel at the Eisenhower Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas. At Fort Lewis, final honors included a 50-gun salute and 4,000 soldiers assembled at Gray Army Airfield for a memorial ceremony.     

Edgar died on July 12, 1971, in Tacoma, nine days after suffering a stroke. Edgar Eisenhower is buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Lakewood.  


John McCallum, Six Roads from Abilene: Some Personal Recollections of Edgar Eisenhower, (Seattle: Wood and Reber, Inc. Publishers, 1960); John S. D. Eisenhower, General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence (New York: Free Press, 2003), pp 19-34; “The Presidency: What Edgar Said,” Time, April 29, 1957, Time website accessed October 7, 2009 (http://www.time.com/); “Ike Plaque, Review Top Celebration,” The Tacoma News Tribune, May 20, 1955, p. 1.

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