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James Rhyne Killian

the 10th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The basics
AKA Dr. James Rhyne Killian, Jr., James R. Killian, Jr.
Date of birth Blacksburg, Cherokee County, South Carolina, U.S.A.
Date of death Jan 29, 1988 Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Awards Peabody Award, Marconi Prize, Hoover Medal
Education MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Authority VIAF id ISNI id Library of congress id
The details

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

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 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a Bachelor of Science in business and engineering administration in 1926. While there, he was a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity.


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.

On leave from MIT he served as Special Assistant for Science and Technology to President Dwight D. 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).

In 1956 Killian was awarded the Public Welfare Medal from the National Academy of Sciences. He co-authored a book, The Education of a College President (1985), 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.


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).

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