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William J. Donovan

William J. Donovan

William J. Donovan (1924-1925)

Early History: William Joseph Donovan was born in 1883 in Buffalo, New York. He graduated from Columbia University in 1905 and Columbia Law School in 1907. During World War I, he served with the New York National Guard and the U.S. Army, receiving the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal and Purple Heart for his actions in France. From 1922 to 1924, Mr. Donovan served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York.

Tenure: In 1924, Mr. Donovan was appointed Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division. He was later appointed Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division, and served the Department until 1929, when he left for private practice.

Later Career: In July 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order establishing a Coordinator of Information (COI), to collect and analyze intelligence information for senior policymakers, and appointed Mr. Donovan as the COI. In June 1942, President Roosevelt issued an order replacing the COI with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), and named Mr. Donovan as its Director. During World War II, the OSS focused on gathering crucial information about members of the Third Reich. Mr. Donovan’s knowledge and expertise were vital to the initial investigations for the Nuremberg Trials, where he was appointed as Assistant to Robert Jackson, the Chief Prosecutor.

Mr. Donovan was instrumental in establishing National Security programs to confront post-war threats, and in 1946, President Harry S. Truman established the Central Intelligence Group and the CIA was created the following year. For his efforts, Mr. Donovan is regarded as the “Father of American Intelligence”. In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Mr. Donovan the National Security Medal for his role in the creation of the modern centralized intelligence framework.

Mr. Donovan died in 1959 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He is believed to be the only person to have been awarded all four of the following prestigious decorations: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. The non-profit OSS Society established the William J. Donovan Award in his honor.

This material is based on the review of a variety of historical sources and its accuracy cannot be guaranteed. If you have any corrections or additional information about this individual or about the history of the Criminal Division, please contact the Division.

Updated August 10, 2016