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Chisholm Foundation collection on Frank Gardiner Wisner

Identifier: MSS 16333

Scope and Contents

Chisholm Foundation collection on Frank Gardiner Wisner (1900-2001; 2 cubic feet) consists of letters, newspaper clippings,scrapbooks, and photographs from the life of Frank Gardiner Wisner including his intelligence career, track achievements and scholarship at the University of Virginia, 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, and his family.


  • Creation: 1909 - 1997


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Biographical Note

Frank Gardiner Wisner who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for more than two decades was born in 1909 in Laurel, Mississippi and attended boarding school at Woodberry Forest in Orange, Virginia, after completing high school in Laurel, Mississippi. He obtained his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Virginia (1934) and became an attorney for Carter, Ledyard & Milburn in New York from 1934 to 1947. His intelligence career began in 1941 as an Officer of the Navy Censor’s Office. From 1941 to 1946, he was promoted to positions of increasing responsibility with the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Office of Strategic Services, and the Strategic Services Unit. He received the Legion of Merit award and the Kings Insignia from the British Empire. In 1948, Mr. Wisner joined the Central Intelligence Agency, serving as Assistant Director for Policy Coordination until 1951, as Deputy Director (Plans) until 1959, and later as Chief of Station, London. In those demanding and difficult capacities, often under conditions of great stress, Mr. Wisner demonstrated a wide range of the most admirable qualities and talents, which he gave to the service of his country without stint. His breadth and depth of knowledge, his professional competence, his precise judgement, his utter dedication to duty, his imagination, resourcefulness, integrity and courage won the respect of subordinates, peers, and superiors alike. His natural leadership was founded upon an unusually sensitive understanding of other people, as well as upon his own precept and example. Under his able guidance, an important element of the Agency was developed from meager beginnings and achieved substantial accomplishments. Mr. Wisner’s distinguished career, matched by very few other intelligence officers of any country or any time, contributed greatly to the security of the United States, in keeping with the best traditions of patriotic service and reflected high credit on him and the Central Intelligence Agency. (Taken in part from his citation in being awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal).

Wisner’s early service career was characterized by his outstanding communication skills and superior management style. He openly shared information with his colleagues and was known for his methodical analysis and clarity of thought. He was responsible for gathering information and building communications between the Rumanians, Soviets, and British. He had a close relationship with Rica Georgescu which gave him access to high officials in the Rumanian government. For a time his close work with the Russians allowed him access to their daily bomb information. He also obtained permission from the Rumanian government for the United States to evacuate thousands of allied prisoners of war. He established a program to influence domestic and foreign media against communism. He collaborated closely with newspaper editors and journalists, giving them important public relations information that promoted patriotism. He also oversaw the finances of the CIA and strongly supported pro-American forces in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1951). Wisner was passionate about stopping the spread of Communism, which came from his experiences in Rumania when he watched the Soviets plan to take over Eastern Europe. When the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956, Wisner was devastated that the U. S. did not come to their aid. After this crushing blow, he struggled with illness, received psychological treatment and significantly reduced his workload, although he was still a consultant for the government, and a station chief in London from 1960 to 1962. After twenty-one years in the government service (from 1941 to 1962) he retired and directed his interests towards private industry where he felt that he could improve international business interests and promote the education of the public, particularly young people, in their knowledge of history and democracy. He was involved in fund raising for St. Antony’s College at Oxford, (with President William Deakin), and The Conservation Foundation. He also studied the growth of several profitable companies, carefully invested in their stock and acted as a consultant to promote diversification and growth of the companies. He made investments in oil, land, farms, timber, and paper. As an attorney, he gave legal advice to colleagues, literary agents, and businesspersons and was an advisor for authors and publishers of novels about spies, former Nazis or world leaders. He helped to ensure that their manuscripts were historically accurate accounts or at least credible to readers. He was also keen to make sure that national security interests were always protected. He made himself available to others who were interested in a career in the government. He studied resumes and gave very high recommendations to well- educated young people who showed promise. His letters from colleagues and friends reveal that he was a very kind person that cared about the careers of other people. He helped individuals from all over the world and in all positions in life with obtaining citizenship, visas or employment. He worked under several presidents, Harry S. Truman, David Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson. He also worked very closely with other C.I.A. Directors including Allen W. Dulles, John McCone, and Richard Helms (who was initially Deputy to Wisner), as well as other well-known individuals in intelligence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ambassadors, diplomats, scholars, and journalists in the major American newspapers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. He was also passionate about hunting and he travelled across the country and to Spain several times a year to attend shooting parties while discussing the problems of the world with his close friends. In addition to his love for hunting, he had been a star athlete in track and was eligible for the 1936 Olympics. In October of 1965, he succumbed to the illness that made him escalate between high and low mood swings, by taking his own life. Many of his friends wrote that he was a hero who gave his life for his country.


1.5 Cubic Feet (1 document box, 1 half-width document box, 1 flat box, and oversize folders)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by the Chisholm Foundation (Lex Lindsay) to the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.

Related Materials

MSS 15049 Frank Gardiner Wisner Papers in Small Special Collections Library

Chisholm Foundation collection on Frank Gardiner Wisner
Ellen Welch
21 June 2017
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Revision Statements

  • 2019-10-1: Updated

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States