Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Douglas J. McKay (1953–1956): Secretary of the Interior

Douglas James McKay was secretary of the interior under President Eisenhower from January 21, 1953, until his resignation on March 9, 1956, to run for the Senate. McKay left high school in 1911 to support his family following the death of his father. He enrolled at Oregon State College in 1913 and graduated with a bachelor of science in agriculture in 1917.

McKay volunteered to fight in the First World War and received an incapacitating wound in the Battle of Sedan that ended any hope of a career in agriculture; nevertheless, he would later serve, during the Second World War, as a major at Oregon's Camp Adair. From 1919 onward, he worked a number of jobs before finally being able to purchase a Chevrolet dealership.

McKay was elected to a number of local and state offices, including mayor of Salem (1932-1933), Oregon state senator (1934-1948), and governor of the state (1948-1952).

As Eisenhower's secretary of the interior, McKay met with mixed success, adding nine new wildlife areas, opposing the transfer of part of the Wichita Wildlife Refuge to the Army, and setting up a program of voluntary relocation for American Indians into economically viable areas. However, he also favored building a dam at Echo Park that would have flooded Dinosaur National Monument, and he received heavy criticism for allowing an Alabama mining company to harvest Oregon timber, earning him the moniker "Giveaway McKay."

That label probably cost him the 1956 senatorial election, which he lost by fifty thousand votes. After his defeat, Eisenhower named McKay chairman of the President's Commission on Water Resources to help resolve water questions between the United States and Canada over the Columbia River. McKay died of a heart attack in 1959.