This past September 24 represented
the 50th anniversary of a rather important market
moving event, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's heart
attack. I first wrote of this back in June 2001 and
thought I'd reprise the piece, as well as add some
new material from sources not initially referred to.
Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated as our country's
34th president on January 20, 1953, the Dow Jones
industrial average stood at 288. By September 23,
1955, the key index had risen 69% to 487.
first thing Eisenhower did upon taking office was
to seek an end to the Korean War and a cease-fire
was reached in July of '53. Meanwhile, except for
a mild slowdown in '54, the U.S. economy was rocking
and rolling, though in the realm of foreign affairs
we were in the midst of the Cold War.
luckily, in 1955 there weren't any specific international
crises or immediate domestic issues for the president
to deal with. I say 'luckily' because on September
23, President Eisenhower, on vacation in Denver, Colorado,
completed 27 holes of golf but went to bed that evening
in some discomfort. He then had a massive heart attack
in the wee hours of Saturday, September 24. As the
president would later remark, "I had thrust upon me
the unpleasant fact that I was indeed a sick man."
were different back then. Supplying details to the
press on medical issues was not like it is today and
the nation had no idea what the true extent of his
so it was that on Monday, September 26, Wall Street
panicked. The Dow Jones plunged 6.5%, 32 points, to
455. The total paper loss for the day was $14 billion,
the largest ever, while volume on the exchange was
7,720,000 shares, the highest since July 1933. [Compare
the volume to today...amazing.]
proved to be one of those classic "one-day" events.
Two days later the turmoil had subsided some and the
Dow recovered to 472.
Ike was far from well. In fact, were it not for the
heroic work of his doctor, Paul Dudley White, he probably
would have died. As it was, Eisenhower didn't take
his first steps until October 25. For its part, the
Dow Jones slid back to 438 on October 11, the low
for the crisis.
the first few weeks, the president was incapable of
any work. Vice President Nixon was running the show
back in Washington, taking pains to make clear that
he was just standing in for Ike during his absence.
Eisenhower wanted to make sure that Nixon was visible
in overseeing the cabinet and National Security Council
meetings. This served an extremely useful purpose,
as it showed the rest of the world that the government
was continuing to function.
chief of staff, Sherman Adams, was also a key figure
in running the government, taking orders from Eisenhower's
Ike finally took his first steps, he emerged in bright
red pajamas bearing the legend "Much Better, Thanks"
and he returned to the White House on November 11.
By then the Dow Jones had recovered to the 476 level.
while happy to have him back, were nonetheless worried.
The party feared that Eisenhower would not be able
to run for reelection in 1956 and everyone knew that
his doctors wouldn't rule on the issue until February.
That month he was ruled fit for office and the president
went on to another landslide victory in the fall;
but not before he had a second medical problem to
deal with, a serious bout of ileitis (inflammation
of the intestine) which required surgery that June,
though this time market reaction was muted.
nation was fortunate that Dwight Eisenhower's heart
attack was in the fall of 1955 and not the following
year. 1956 was the year of the Suez Canal Crisis as
well as the Soviet Union's putdown of the Hungarian
Revolution. Without a president who was firmly in
charge, these events may have taken a few scary twists,
beyond what ultimately occurred. And the market's
reaction would not have been a good one.
are two descriptions of the time I came across since
doing the original piece. From the book "Dwight Eisenhower"
by Tom Wicker.
Washington, (press secretary) Jim Hagerty got the
news via a call from his assistant.at about 4:30 P.M.
(on 9/24). He notified Vice President Nixon, commandeered
an air force plane, and flew immediately to Denver..
next day, the noted heart specialist Dr. Paul Dudley
White, who had been summoned by (White House physician)
Dr. Howard Snyder, examined Eisenhower and confirmed
Snyder's prognosis: the president, he said, had had
'a slightly more than moderate heart attack - grade
3 out of five grades.'
charge of press relations, Hagerty initiated with
family and medical approval a historic policy of full
disclosure of the president's condition, as described
by Drs. Snyder and White. This policy was in sharp
contrast to the secrecy that previously blanketed
presidential illnesses, like Woodrow Wilson's stroke
in 1919 and Grover Cleveland's cancer operation in
1889. Full disclosure of Eisenhower's condition also
was a departure from the unadmitted physical disabilities
that had made Franklin Roosevelt's pursuit of a fourth
term in 1944 medically unwise. Hagerty's informative
regular bulletins for the White House press corps
- which had transferred itself to Denver - also contrasted
with the silence that officially but not entirely
successfully covered an arcane political power struggle
both the national and international scenes remained
quiet as Eisenhower recovered rapidly. The president
and his wife were able to return to Washington on
November 11, less than two months after his heart
attack, and went almost immediately to the Gettysburg
farm for his further recuperation. But he had not
regained health rapidly enough to quell speculation
about whether he would run for a second term, and
it was not until late February 1956, after numerous
tests and assurances from his doctors, that Eisenhower
finally said he would be a candidate for a second
this from Richard Nixon's "In the Arena," the best
book on politics I've ever read.
Eisenhower had his heart attack, he went through a
long period of deep depression. He talked like a man
who felt his public career was finished. He did not
even want to discuss the possibility of running the
following year. The Republican national chairman,
Len Hall, was naturally terrified. When reporters
asked him about the election, his stock reply was
that the ticket would be Ike and Dick. Finally, one
reporter asked the dreaded question: 'What happens
if Eisenhower decides not to run?' Hall blurted out,
'We will jump off that bridge when we come to it.'
Fortunately, he did not have to make that fatal decision.
Eisenhower finally recovered his health and his will
to live and to win. He was reelected by a landslide
About the Presidents," Joseph Kane
"American Heritage: The Presidents," Michael Beschloss
"The Presidents," Henry Graff
"Wall Street: A History," Charles Geisst
"In the Arena," Richard Nixon
"Dwight D. Eisenhower," Tom Wicker