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Robert Porter Patterson Sr. (February 12, 1891 – January 22, 1952) was the United States Under Secretary of War under President Franklin Roosevelt and the United States Secretary of War under President Harry S. Truman from September 27, 1945 to July 18, 1947.

Robert P. Patterson
Robert P. Patterson, 55th United States Secretary of War.jpg
55th United States Secretary of War
In office
September 27, 1945 – July 18, 1947
President Harry S. Truman
Preceded by Henry L. Stimson
Succeeded by Kenneth C. Royall
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
March 21, 1939 – July 30, 1940
Appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded by Martin Thomas Manton
Succeeded by Jerome Frank
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
May 13, 1930 – March 22, 1939
Appointed by Herbert Hoover
Preceded by Thomas D. Thacher
Succeeded by Simon H. Rifkind
Personal details
Born Robert Porter Patterson
(1891-02-12)February 12, 1891
Glens Falls, New York, U.S.
Died January 22, 1952(1952-01-22) (aged 60)
Newark Liberty International Airport
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Margaret Tarleton Winchester Patterson
(m. 1920 - 1952, his death)
Children Robert P. Patterson, Jr.
Aileen W. Patterson
Susan Patterson Hand
Virginia D. Patterson
Parents Charles Robert Patterson
Lodice Edna Porter Patterson
Alma mater Union College
Harvard Law School
Profession Government
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Major
Unit 306th Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars World War I



Patterson was born in Glens Falls, New York on February 12, 1891, the son of Lodice Edna (née Porter) and Charles Robert Patterson. He graduated from Union College and Harvard Law School.


Patterson practiced law in New York City (a firm which survives today as Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler).

He served in the United States Army during World War I, and reached the rank of major. He received the Distinguished Service Cross[1] and Silver Star[1] for heroism in France. Patterson served in the 306th Infantry Regiment which was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division.


In 1930, President Herbert Hoover appointed Patterson as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt promoted Patterson to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where he sat with judges Learned Hand, Augustus Hand, and Thomas Walter Swan.

In 1940, after 15 months of service on the Second Circuit, Patterson left the bench to join the War Department. After a few months as Assistant Secretary of War, President Roosevelt promoted Patterson to Undersecretary of War late in 1940. He was instrumental in the mobilization of the armed forces preparatory to and during World War II.[2]

Patterson congratulating Col. Chauncey M. Hooper in Hawaii, 1943.

President Harry S. Truman appointed Patterson as Secretary of War in 1945. Truman initially was set to offer Patterson a seat on the Supreme Court which was left vacant by Justice Owen J. Roberts, however, with the resignation of Henry L. Stimson, Patterson instead became the Secretary of War.[3] Patterson advocated unifying the armed services (army and navy) and having a single chief of staff. Steps to this effect were begun by the National Security Act of 1947 and revised several times, finally by the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. Patterson participated in the desegregation of the armed forces, specifically during late stages of World War II with regard to creating an African-American fighter group, known now as the Tuskeegee airmen.

Private careerEdit

On July 18, 1947, Patterson stepped down as Secretary of War and returned to his law practice. (President Truman had reportedly offered to reappoint him to his former judgeship on the Second Circuit, but Patterson declined.) The firm, which continues as a preeminent law firm in New York City, still carries his name, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.

He later served as the president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, and the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Personal and deathEdit

On January 3, 1920, Patterson married the former Margaret Tarleton Winchester (March 12, 1897 - March 28, 1988); they had four children: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., Aileen W. Patterson, Susan H. Patterson and Virginia D. Patterson.

Patterson housed William L. Marbury Jr., at his Georgetown home. After the war, he recommended Marbury to succeed him at the United Nations; upon advice from Alger Hiss, Marbury declined. (Marbury soon thereafter represented Hiss in his slander case against Whittaker Chambers.)[4]

He died on January 22, 1952, returning from meeting a client, onboard American Airlines Flight 6780 which crashed on the approach to Newark Liberty International Airport in Elizabeth, New Jersey; he was age 60.

Son Robert P. Patterson, Jr. was a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, until his death in 2015.


In 2012, the University of Tennessee Press published The World War I Memoirs of Robert P. Patterson: A Captain in the Great War, edited by J. Garry Clifford.

In 2014, the University of Tennessee Press published his previously unpublished 1947 memoir Arming the Nation for War, with a foreword by Robert M. Morgenthau, former Manhattan district attorney, and edited by Brian Waddell, associate professor at the University of Connecticut.

  • The World War I Memoirs of Robert P. Patterson: A Captain in the Great War (2012)
  • Arming the Nation for War: Mobilization, Supply, and the American War Effort in World War II (2014)


  1. ^ a b Sterner, Doug. "Valor awards for Robert Porter Patterson". Military Times Hall of Valor. Military Times. Retrieved January 12, 2017. 
  2. ^ Herman, Arthur. Fredom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, pp. 157, 161, 165-6, 175, 236, 238-9, 284-5, 288, Random House, New York, NY, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4000-6964-4.
  3. ^ Eiler, op. cit. p 443-444
  4. ^ Marbury, Jr., William L. (1981). "The Hiss-Chambers Libel Suit" (PDF). Maryland Historical Magazine. 76 (1): 74 (Georgetown), 76 (UN job). Retrieved 23 November 2016. 
  • Eiler, Keith. (1997) Mobilizing America: Robert P. Patterson and the War Effort, 1940-1945. Cornell University Press.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas D. Thacher
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Succeeded by
Simon H. Rifkind
Preceded by
Martin Thomas Manton
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
Succeeded by
Jerome Frank
Preceded by
Henry L. Stimson
U.S. Secretary of War
Served under: Harry S. Truman

Succeeded by
Kenneth C. Royall
Preceded by
New office
United States Under Secretary of War
Succeeded by
Kenneth C. Royall