William Joseph Donovan

Donovan, William Joseph (dŏnˈəvən) [key], 1883–1959, U.S. lawyer and government official, b. Buffalo, N.Y., grad. Columbia law school. Distinguished service in World War I won him medals and the nickname Wild Bill Donovan. He was prominent in Republican politics, served (1925–29) in the office of the U.S. attorney general, and made an unsuccessful bid for New York governor (1932). President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent him on several secret foreign missions, and in 1942 he was made head of the newly created Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which he made into a formidable and often successful intelligence agency during World War II. Donovan was given the rank of major general and served until 1945. He later returned to public service as ambassador to Thailand (1953–54). His enthusiasm for covert operations and paramilitary interventions helped shape the psychology of the Central Intelligence Agency, which replaced the OSS as the premier U.S. intelligence agency in 1947.

See biographies by C. Ford (1970), A. C. Brown (1982), R. Dunlop (1982), and D. Waller (2011); S. Alsop, Sub Rosa: the O.S.S. and American Espionage (1963); R. H. Smith, OSS (1977).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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