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Ink, Dwight

Published onJul 30, 2021
Ink, Dwight

(September 9, 1922 - )

 Quick Facts

Alumnus Dwight Ink not only worked for one U.S. President, he worked for every president from Eisenhower to Reagan, in a variety of roles.


Ink, a great storyteller, remembers Great Depression days when he walked several miles to a one room schoolhouse in blizzards and blazing sun. at times having to drop out when it got too cold to continue walking barefoot.

In August of 1940 he enrolled at Iowa State.

According to Ink, “My rural schooling did not prepare me for college.  I almost flunked out, but the University took a chance on me.  Iowa State provided me with the environment and opportunities to go into public service, the most interesting and fulfilling field I can imagine.  It is a field in which one can go to the top without having wealth or special influence.  It does require hard work, risk taking, and a desire to help people.”

He quickly became a student leader.  “I did a lot of organizing before and after World War II, When the debate coach was drafted, the University appointed me faculty adviser to the debate program, even giving me the debate office in Beardshear.  Within three months we organized 47 debate teams, the largest program in the nation.  After the war President Friley let me negotiate in Washington with the National Democratic and National Republican Committees a debate in our football field to be broadcast nationwide by NBC. It was to feature the leading conservative, Senator Taft, and the leading liberal, Secretary of Commerce Henry Wallace.  Unfortunately, shortly before the debate, Truman fired Wallace and Taft lost interest. These were experiences that very few, if any, universities would allow a student to handle. I owe so much to Iowa State University.

From 1942 to 1946, Ink served in the Army Air Corps and Combat Engineers, returning to Iowa State as a senior.  Because Iowa State did not have the government degree Ink needed to apply for a masters program in public management, he successfully petitioned the University to establish one. He was one of the first two to graduate with the new double major in History and Government.  He received his masters in Public Administration from the University of Minnesota and became Fargo’s first Budget and Personnel Officer.

After helping to clean up corruption in the Fargo City Hall, Ink moved to the federal government.  The Liberal Arts and Sciences College summarized his handling assignments for a series of presidents this way:

Few people get the chance to work for the President of the United States.  Ink not only worked for one U.S. President he worked for every president from Eisenhower to Reagan. His roles federal government were as diverse as the presidents he served.- from urban development, environment energy and anti-poverty to foreign aid, arms reduction and disaster reconstruction.

Dwight Ink pictured with wife and parents after being sworn in as First Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, circa 1966 Source: Special Collections, Iowa State University Library (from box 7, folder 19)

The following assignments illustrate this diversity.

For Eisenhower, while in the AEC Ink initiated the Limited Nuclear Test Ban concept as a first step toward reigning in the dangerous nuclear arms race of the Cold War.  Under Kennedy he led joint State, Defense, AEC teams to assure safe custody of our nuclear weapons in overseas NATO bases, and he ordered the world’s first nuclear device into space, ahead of the Soviets.   In 1964 an  earthquake devastated much of Alaska, No engineers believed the short construction season would enable the rebuilding of harbors and public utilities sufficiently to avoid much of the population abandoning the state.  Johnson gave Ink authority to cut red tape and use unprecedented management approaches, enabling him to lead the rebuilding so rapidly the state was saved, causing the Anchorage Times to label his work “Government at its Best”. He chaired Johnson’s White House Task Force on Education, and was designated by Johnson as the first Assistant Secretary of Administration in the new Department of Housing and Urban Development where Ink was to take the lead in organizing. Ink headed President Nixon’s management and organization reforms, including the establishment of the President’s Domestic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Consumers Product Safety Commission. It also included sweeping decentralization of assistance to states and communities. During the Arab Oil Embargo, President Ford asked Ink to quickly reduce the government’s use of energy.  Ink mobilized a government wide effort, resulting in a reduction of one third within 90 days. Ink was Executive Director of President Carter’s Civil Service reform, the only broad reform of the government’s personnel system since it replaced the Spoils System in 1883.   Under Reagan, he eliminated the independent agency he headed, was also Vice President of the U.S. Synthetic Corporation and during the second term, was in charge of our technical and economic assistance in the Western Hemisphere.

 Ink also spent three years as Director for Continuing Education and Research at The American University.  His last role was President of the New York Institute of Public Administration where he  helped a number of governments make the transition from Communist dictatorships to democratic governments.

Ink’s professional accomplishments were featured prominently in a 1909 book “If We Can Put a Man on the Moon…Getting Big Things Done in Government by William D. Eggers and John O’Leary (Harvard Business Press, Boston}. The magazine Government Executive, in conjunction with the National Academy of Public Administration and others, recently named Ink one of the 20 all-time Civil Service leaders.

Ink has been a generous contributor to the ISU Department of Political Science.  The Dwight Ink Public Service Award is given to a federal state or local government individual who has been especially effective in implementing a government policy in Iowa. He has provided a modest fund for expenses a student will incur in practical research regarding policy implementation. Ink also pledged $450,000 to fund a Policy Implementation Professorship to encourage research on effective policy implementation.  Policies are worthless without skilled execution, according to Ink.

In 2018, Iowa State conferred Ink with a Doctor of Humane Letters at ISU’s Spring 2018 Commencement ceremony. [1]

 Selected Sources

Dwight Ink Papers, RS 21/7/241, Iowa State University Library Special Collections and University Archives. The collection contains articles, awards, biographical materials, certificates, clippings, correspondence, invitations, legal documents, manuscripts, meeting minutes, memorandums, notes, photographs, publications, reports, and subject files, as well as a small number of artifacts and oversized materials. These materials document Ink's years of government service and related professional activities.

ISU Special Collections, Cardinal Tales blog

Gieseke, Carole. "The remarkable Dwight Ink," Visions Across America, April 15, 2013.

Haas, Sarah. "ISU alum Dwight Ink reflects on a life of opportunities," Iowa State Daily, March 23, 2010.

Haas, Sarah. "ISU alumni Dwight Ink pioneered disaster recovery efforts, urban housing programs," Iowa State Daily, March 24, 2010.

Haas, Sarah. "Ink maintains ISU relationship," Iowa State Daily, March 25, 2010.

Related collections available at other repositories include:
•John A. McCone Papers, BANC MSS 95/20 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
•Legal records relating to Richard Serra v. United States General Services Administration et al., 1985-1987, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
•Papers of Charles J.V. Murphy, #1689, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University.
•Collections for individual agencies and presidential administrations, National Archives and Records Administration.

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