John Foster Dulles Mocks Himself

By David Langbart.

In January 15, 1958, Willard S. Irle, a member of the New York Stock Exchange sent President Dwight Eisenhower a letter with ideas about the preservation of world peace.  Irle suggested a “three-pronged program” consisting of the establishment of (1) a universal language, (2) a universal monetary system, and (3) a universal system of weights and measures.

President Eisenhower sent Irle’s letter to Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, indicating that Irle appeared to be “a very serious fellow” and requesting that the Department of State “give him a thoughtful answer.”  The President specifically asked that Dulles’ deputy, Undersecretary of State Christian Herter “or somebody like that,” answer the letter.

Secretary Dulles forwarded the President’s note and Irle’s letter to Under Secretary Herter under cover of the following note:

John Dulles Mocks Himself

For those of you who cannot decipher the Secretary’s scrawl, it reads:

To C.A.H.

I could almost answer this myself – but perhaps my answer would not be consider[ed] by Mr. Irle to be “thoughtful”


Herter, signing as “Acting Secretary” in Dulles’s absence, responded on February 1, with a two-and-a-half page letter prepared in the Department’s Public Services DivisionThe letter thanked Irle for his “thoughtful comments and suggestions” and made the following points:

  • the U.S. Government did not support a world-wide language program because of differences in educational systems and the problem of illiteracy around the world.  The letter did note, however, that the UN and private organizations were interested in the idea.
  • the creation of a universal monetary system was problematic as evidenced by problems encountered by the International Monetary Fund in its work.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Government planned to continue working through the IMF to achieve that organization’s goals.
  • noted that the U.S. had been participating in the activities of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures since 1878, and that organization’s primary objective was to promote standardization of the basic units of weights and measures.

Source: President Eisenhower to Secretary of State Dulles, January 20, 1958; Secretary Dulles to Under Secretary Herter, January 20, 1958; Acting Secretary Herter to Willard Irle, February 1, 1958 all in File 600.001/1-2058, 1955-59 Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.  Irle’s letter was returned to President Eisenhower and is now on file in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Papers as President, Administration Series, Christian Herter (3).

I thank my colleagues Karl Weissenbach and Mary Burtzloff at the Library for their assistance.