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Thomas S. Power Papers

An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: --
Date: 2001-01-01

Biographical History

Thomas Sarsfield Power (1905-1970 was an American military officer who served as both Vice-Commander and Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command. Born on June 18, 1905 in New York City, he graduated from Barnard School for Boys and entered the Air Corps flying school in 1928, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in 1929. Early assignments took him to famed air corps fields of the day, including Chanute, Langley and Randolph Fields, where he served as an air mail pilot, a flying instructor and an engineering and armament officer.

In World War II Power saw combat as a B-24 pilot in North Africa and Italy, and in 1944 he was named commander of the 304th Bomb Wing on Guam. He led the first large-scale fire bomb raid on Tokyo in March 1945, initiating new tactics that resulted in massive destruction in the Japanese cities. He served as Deputy Chief of Operations under General Carl Spaatz during the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the war, Power was named as assistant deputy task force commander for air during the "Operation Crossroads" atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll. He also served for a time in Washington and London. In 1948 he was named Vice Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command, serving under General Curtis E. LeMay, his former commander in the raids on Japan. In 1954 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. He was in charge of the Air Research and Development Command from 1954-1957. In 1957 Power succeeded LeMay as Commander in Chief of Strategic Air Command, a post which he filled for seven years. As head of the U.S. nuclear strike force, including over 1,000 nuclear-armed bombers and hundreds of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles, he was never far from the "red phone" connections that could bring him orders from the president to go to war.

During his military career, Power was an outspoken proponent of nuclear deterrence, a policy of peace through the achievement of overwhelming nuclear superiority. He favored patriotism, preparedness, and a tough policy toward the Communist enemy. His views on the nuclear strategy were incorporated in a book in 1958, but Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy refused to clear the draft for publication. As a result, Power gained fame in conservative circles as the author of a "banned" book. He was the sole military man to testify against the nuclear test ban treaty before a Senate investigating committee in 1963.

Upon his retirement in 1964, Power was named board chairman of Schick, Inc., with whom he was affiliated for six years. After extensive revision, his book was published in 1965 under the title Design for Survival. It spent a few weeks on the bestseller lists and helped to make Power much in demand on the lecture circuit, where he called for nuclear superiority and victory in Vietnam. He served on a Veterans for Nixon group for the 1968 presidential campaign. Thomas Power married Mae Ayre in 1936. They had no children. Power died on December 6, 1970.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Thomas S. Power Papers consists of communications and writings, memorabilia, organizational records, and photographs. Virtually all of Power's papers stem from his career in the U.S. Air Force and his activities in the years after his retirement in 1964.

Communications and writings form the bulk of the collection. Dating from 1945 to 1970, this material includes articles and essays, books, book reviews, correspondence, interviews, memoranda, press releases, speeches, statements and miscellany. The articles and essays, which were written by Power on topics of defense and nuclear deterrence, include one guest editorial for the New York Times entitled "In Defense of the Pentagon." The material on General Power's book, Design for Survival, comprises drafts, promotional material, reviews from the news media throughout the country, a signature proof and clippings of its serialization in two major newspapers. There is also a comic-book version, complete with color illustrations of the general. Of special interest is the 1958 draft of the book, unpublished at that time due to the objections of the Secretary of Defense. The single book review is of Curtis LeMay's America Is In Danger.

Correspondence (1945-1970) covers 25 years of Power's career. Among those who wrote to Power are mportant figures in government, business, the news media and the military. Carbon copies of Power's replies may be found stapled to the top of the incoming correspondence. Very little of the correspondence relates to specific military aspects of Power's career. There are letters dealing with social arrangements, notes of invitation and congratulations, and letters on current issues, many of which are from prominent individuals. There is also a substantial amount of correspondence from private citizens who wrote to commend Power's patriotism and dedication and to share their fears of the Communist encroachment with him. The correspondence also reflects Power's close association with top levels of defense-oriented corporations, particularly during the years of his service as head of the Air Research and Development Command. A series of letters from Richard Nixon in 1967 and 1968 stem from Power's support of Nixon's 1968 presidential campaign. A Selected Index to Correspondence appears at the end of this finding aid.

The interviews, which date from 1957 to 1970, include a substantial number of transcripts of interviews with Walter Judd of the American Security Council's Washington Report of the Air, as well as a copy of Power's remarks during his appearance on Meet the Press. Of particular interest is the 1966 Viet Nam Review interview in which Power urges escalation and use of air power in Indochina.

The speeches originate from Power's occasional talks as an officer and from his engagements as a speaker after retirement. Power spoke chiefly to Republican clubs, business, civic and patriotic groups. The miscellany section consists of writings of others, most of which are articles on topics of special interest to Power. Specific information regarding Power's lectures can be found on the first page of each draft.

Memorabilia, which dates from 1934 to 1970, contains appointment books, biographical material, commendations and awards, a drawing of the general, a few items of ephemera, newspaper clippings, an obituary and several scrapbooks. The untitled scrapbooks contain a complete and mounted collection of clippings from Power's career.

Organizational records, 1928-1969, contain material from the American Security Council, the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Academy. Power was a member of the National Strategy Committee of the American Security Council, a private organization dedicated to military preparedness against the Communist menace. The Air Force material consists of records from Power's early career, including commendations, discharge and commission papers, flight books and records, medical records, pilot orders, training papers and material on Operation Crossroads. The Air Force Academy papers date from Power's service on a General Officer Advisory Committee to that institution.

Six boxes of Photographs, 1928-1968, contain both albums and individual photos of a wide variety of subjects. There are a number of photographs from Power's visits to air bases and industrial plants, as well as visits to his command by foreign dignitaries and U.S. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Audio-visual material includes five films, audiorecordings of interview and speeches, and 73 reels of audiotape containing episodes of the American Security Council's Washington Report of the Air, a three-minute daily briefing on current events. Six of these contain interviews with General Power on subjects of national defense.

Arrangement of the Collection

Communications and writings are arranged alphabetically by type of material; within that material is arranged alphabetically by topic or title, with the exception of correspondence, memoranda, and press releases which are organized chronologically. Memorabilia is arranged alphabetically by type. Organization records are arranged alphabetically by name of organization. Photographs are arranged alphabetically by subject. Audiovisual material is arranged by type and within that alphabetically by title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Buckley, William F., Jr., 1925-2008.
Clay, Lucius D. (Lucius DuBignon), 1897-1978.
Curtis, Carl T. (Carl Thomas), 1905-2000.
Douglas, Donald W. (Donald Willis), 1892-1981.
Eaker, Ira, 1896-1987.
Foss, Joe, 1915-2003.
Godfrey, Arthur, 1903-1983.
Goldwater, Barry, 1938-
Hruska, Roman L. (Roman Lee), 1904-1999.
Kintner, William R. (William Roscoe), 1915-1997.
LeMay, Curtis E.
Lemnitzer, Lyman L. (Lyman Louis), 1899-1988.
McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009.
Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994.
Power, Thomas S. (Thomas Sarsfield), 1905-1970.
Reagan, Ronald.
Spellman, Francis, 1889-1967.
Spivak, Lawrence E. (Lawrence Edmund), 1900-1994.
Symington, Stuart, 1901-1988.
Thomas, Lowell, 1892-1981.
Truman, Harry S., 1884-1972.
Twining, Nathan F. (Nathan Farragut), 1897-1982.
Wallace, DeWitt, 1889-1981.
White, Thomas D. (Thomas Dresser), 1901-1965.

Corporate Bodies

American Security Council.
United States. -- Air Force -- Officers.
United States. -- Air Force.
United States. -- Air Force. -- Strategic Air Command.

Associated Titles

Design for survival.


Aeronautics, Military -- United States.
Arms race.
Deterrence (Strategy)


United States -- History, Military -- 20th century.
United States -- Military policy.

Genres and Forms

16mm (photographic film size)
Appointment books.
Book reviews.
Clippings (information artifacts)
Manuscripts for publication.
Phonograph records.
Press releases.
Sound recordings.
Speeches (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Thomas S. Power Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of General Thomas S. Power and and Mrs. Thomas S. Power, 1964-1971.

Table of Contents

Communications and writings


Organization records


Audiovisual material

Selected index to correspondence


Note on alternate formats:

Many of the audiovisual items from this collection have been digitized. Please refer to SCRC Online, our digital portal to access these items.

Selected index to correspondence