James Killian
Chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board
In office
May 4, 1961 – April 23, 1963
PresidentJohn F. Kennedy
Preceded byJohn Hull
Succeeded byClark Clifford
In office
January 13, 1956 – March 1, 1958
PresidentDwight Eisenhower
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJohn Hull
Chairman of the President's Science Advisory Committee
In office
November 7, 1957 – July 1959
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byIsidor Rabi
Succeeded byGeorge Kistiakowsky
10th President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
In office
Preceded byKarl Compton
Succeeded byJulius Stratton
Personal details
Born(1904-07-24)July 24, 1904
Blacksburg, South Carolina, U.S.
DiedJanuary 29, 1988(1988-01-29) (aged 83)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
EducationDuke University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (BS)
AwardsVannevar Bush Award (1980)

James Rhyne Killian Jr. (July 24, 1904 – January 29, 1988) was the 10th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from 1948 until 1959.[1][2]

Early life

Killian was born on July 24, 1904, in Blacksburg, South Carolina. His father was a textile maker. He attended The McCallie School in Chattanooga, TN [1] later studied at Duke University (formerly Trinity University) for two years until he transferred to MIT, where he received a Bachelor of Business Administration and engineering administration in 1926.[3] While there, he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.


Leadership at MIT

In 1932, while serving as the editor of MIT's alumni magazine Technology Review, Killian was instrumental in the founding of Technology Press, the publishing imprint that would later become the institute's independent publishing house, MIT Press. He became executive assistant to MIT President Karl Taylor Compton in 1939, and co-directed the wartime operation of MIT, which strongly supported military research and development. He was from 1948 until 1959 the 10th president of MIT. In 1956, James R. Killian Jr was named as the 1st Chair to the new President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board by the Eisenhower Administration; a position which he held until April 1963.

Advisor to the President of the U.S.

On leave from MIT he served as Special Assistant for Science and Technology to President Eisenhower from 1957 to 1959, making him the first true Presidential Science Advisor. Killian headed the Killian Committee and oversaw the creation of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) shortly after the launches of the Soviet artificial satellites, Sputnik 1 and Sputnik 2, in October and November 1957. PSAC was instrumental in initiating national curriculum reforms in science and technology and in establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Killian described an environment of "widespread discouragement" facing scientists and, in particular, scientists of the Technological Capabilities Panel, which had been convened by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to develop technological solutions to the perceived possibility of a surprise nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. This stifling work atmosphere was caused by the widely cast, groundless aspersions of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the removal of Robert Oppenheimer from work on sensitive military projects. Oppenheimer had expressed support for shifting U.S. military resources from offensive nuclear weapons to defensive capabilities, and following Oppenheimer's loss of his security clearance, scientists felt that it was inadvisable to challenge the thinking of the military establishment.[4]

Awards and autobiography

In 1956 Killian was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[5] He co-authored a book, The Education of a College President (1985),[ISBN missing] which serves as an autobiography as well. After stepping down as president of MIT in 1959, he served as chairman of the MIT Corporation from 1959 until 1971.


Killian died on January 29, 1988, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[3]


Two locations on MIT's campus bear the name Killian: Killian Court, a tree-lined courtyard with views of MIT's Great Dome, and Killian Hall, a concert hall (actually named after Killian's wife, Elizabeth Parks Killian, a Wellesley College alumna).


  1. ^ James Rhyne Killian, 1904-1988
  2. ^ James Rhyne Killian
  3. ^ a b Stein, George (January 31, 1988). "Obituaries : James Killian; Educator, Adviser to Two Presidents". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 26, 2017.
  4. ^ Monte Reel, "A Brotherhood of Spies: The U2 and the CIA's Secret War," (New York: Anchor Books, 2019), pp. 28-29
  5. ^ "Public Welfare Award". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 17 February 2011.

Further reading

Academic offices
Preceded by
Karl Compton
President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Succeeded by
Julius Stratton
Government offices
New office Chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board
Succeeded by
John Hull
Preceded by
Isidor Rabi
Chairman of the President's Science Advisory Committee
Succeeded by
George Kistiakowsky
Preceded by
John Hull
Chair of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board
Succeeded by
Clark Clifford