Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Richard B. Cheney (1989–1993): Secretary of Defense

Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney was born in 1941 in Lincoln, Nebraska. After attending Yale University for three semesters, he dropped out and worked on power lines in the western part of the country. Cheney then returned to academics, earning his B.A. in 1965 and his M.A. in 1966, both from the University of Wyoming.

Prior to serving as a congressional fellow from 1968 to 1969, Cheney secured an internship with the National Center for Education in Politics -- a post which allowed him to work for Wisconsin governor Warren Knowles. In 1969, he became special assistant to the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Donald Rumsfeld. When Rumsfeld began serving President Richard Nixon as a counselor, Cheney went with him to the White House.

After three years with President Nixon, and following Rumsfeld’s appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Cheney entered the private sector. After a brief stint as a financial consultant, Cheney returned to the White House as deputy chief of staff during President Gerald Ford’s administration. When Ford’s chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, became secretary of defense in 1975, Cheney assumed Rumsfeld’s duties and served as chief of staff until the end of the Ford administration in 1977.

Following this second stint in the White House, Cheney returned to Wyoming and became involved first in banking and then in politics, winning an election to the House of Representatives in 1978. He served ten years in the House and was then tapped by President George H. W. Bush to serve as his secretary of defense.

Cheney selected General Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the two were heavily involved in planning the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Following President Bush’s defeat in the 1992 presidential election, Cheney left the Pentagon, was briefly considered as a Republican presidential candidate in 1996, and then served as president and chief executive officer of the Halliburton Company.

In 2000, presidential candidate George W. Bush chose Cheney as his running mate. Cheney currently serves as vice president in the George W. Bush administration.