President-elect John F. Kennedy’s fifth appointment to his new Cabinet filled the Secretary of Defense spot. He chose 44-year-old Robert S. McNamara, who had recently been appointed President of the Ford Motor Company.ARVE Error: Mode: lazyload not available (ARVE Pro not active?), switching to normal mode
Date: December 13, 1960
Original Title: News in Brief: Washington, D.C.
Film Type: Black and White / Sound
Credit: MCA/Universal Films
Archival Source: National Archives / 200-UN / 33-101
Transcript / Shot List
Two key appointees to President-elect [John F.] Kennedy's Cabinet meet in New York: Secretary of State Dean Rusk and United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, who will be raised to cabinet rank.
In Washington, Senator Kennedy announces his choice for Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, who was recently named President of the Ford Motor Company and who gives up potential earnings of three million dollars.
Robert McNamara: I accept my full duties for the Defense Department assignment with a tremendous sense of challenge, with full confidence in the ability of President-elect Kennedy to lead this nation forward at a time and in circumstances that demand the best that every citizen has to offer.
President-elect John F. Kennedy’s fifth appointment to his new Cabinet filled the Secretary of Defense spot. He chose 44-year-old Robert S. McNamara, who had recently been appointed President of the Ford Motor Company.
McNamara’s middle name was “Strange”. As in Robert Strange McNamara. As a registered Republican, McNamara became the first Republican appointed to Kennedy’s Cabinet. He was a Presbyterian, married, and father of three. His rapid rise at Ford had been through the financial and accounting side of the business, where he was brought in by Henry Ford II as one of a team known as “whiz kids” right after World War II.1
Kennedy made the announcement on December 13, 1960, from the stoop of his Georgetown home. As the Washington Post noted, despite the sub-freezing temperatures, “both men were bareheaded and wore no overcoats.” It was worth noting, because the previous day an early-season and unexpectedly strong blizzard had caught the East Coast out.2
In accepting the position, McNamara took a huge pay cut. His new government salary was about one-fifteenth of what he was getting paid at Ford. He had been president of Ford just over a month; he’d been selected the day after Kennedy was elected President. And McNamara was not the first Secretary of Defense to be plucked from Detroit. Charles Wilson, President Eisenhower’s first Secretary of Defense, was a former president of General Motors.
In making the selection, Kennedy told reporters that he was selecting McNamara with the understanding that the Defense Department must be “so strong that it cannot merely defend the Nation in event of war but, rather, so strong that it can maintain the peace.”3 Kennedy also confirmed that he was asking all his appointees to remain in place for “as near to four years as possible.” As it happened, McNamara remained Secretary of Defense for much longer, until February 1968 (and was then replaced by Clark Clifford, who was heading Kennedy’s transition team in 1960-61).
- ”McNamara Vs Wilson: Study in Contrasts, Chicago Daily Tribune, 14 December 1960. ↩
- Carroll Kilpatrick, “Pentagon Reins Given McNamara,” Washington Post, 14 December 1960. ↩
- Quoted in Carroll Kilpatrick, “Pentagon Reins Given McNamara,” Washington Post, 14 December 1960; “Transcript of Kennedy’s News Conference,” New York Times, 14 December 1962. ↩