Caspar Weinberger Biography

Caspar Weinberger, an American politician, bureaucrat, and businessman, had a prominent political career as a staunch Republican. Serving in various US government ministries for almost three decades, he was most notably associated with the defense and finance ministry. While his cost-cutting policies in the finance and economic sector were highly appreciated, he faced opposition for his budget-boosting policies in the defense sector. Caspar held the third-longest tenure as the Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan, advocating for increased defense spending during the concluding years of the Cold War. Despite his achievements, he faced accusations during the infamous Iran-Contra deal, leading to his resignation. Later in his career, Caspar ventured into the corporate sector. He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom and British Knighthood, and chronicled his journey in his books Fighting for Peace and The Next War.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Caspar Willard Weinberger
  • Died At Age: 88
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Jane Weinberger
  • Born Country: United States
  • Political Leaders
  • American Men
  • Died on: March 28, 2006
  • Place of Death: Bangor, Maine, United States
  • Cause of Death: Pneumonia
  • U.S. State: California
  • City: San Francisco, California
  • Education: Harvard College, Harvard Law School

Childhood & Early Life

Caspar Willard Weinberger, later known as Caspar Weinberger, was born on August 18, 1917, in San Francisco, California. His parents were attorney Herman Weinberger and Cerise Carpenter Hampson. He had an older brother named Peter. Caspar attended the San Francisco Polytechnic High School. Growing up, he developed an interest in politics and enjoyed reading records of congressional debates. He went on to graduate from Harvard University in 1938 and Harvard Law School in 1941. After completing his education, he enlisted in the US Army as a private. Caspar was also the president of the journal The Harvard Crimson.

During World War II, Caspar served in the 41st Infantry Division of the Pacific Theatre in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines. He later became a member of General Douglas MacArthur’s intelligence staff and was honored with a Bronze Star before being discharged in 1946 as a captain. After returning to California, he began his career working in law firms.


Caspar started his career as a clerk for a federal appeals court judge and then worked at a San Francisco law firm. From 1959 to 1969, he was a partner in the firm. He also served as a California State Assemblyman from 1953 to 1959 and became the chairman of the California Republican Party in 1962. In 1967, he was appointed as the chairman of the Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy (the Little Hoover Commission) by Governor Ronald Reagan. Reagan later made him the State Director of Finance in 1968.

In January 1970, Caspar was appointed as the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission by President Richard Nixon. He then became the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget and eventually its director in June 1972. Caspar was known as “Cap the Knife” due to his cost-cutting plans for government programs. In 1973, he became the US Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and was also appointed as the human resources counselor to bring federal bureaucracy under White House control. He resigned in 1975 to pursue a corporate career.

Caspar became the director of PepsiCo and Quaker Oats and the vice president of the Bechtel group of companies in California. However, he returned to politics in 1981 as Ronald Reagan’s first Secretary of Defense. Despite his reputation as a budget-slasher, he advocated for several budget-boosting plans for defense. He played a key role in the development of America’s strategic nuclear preventive plan and signed a military technology co-operation agreement with China. He also commissioned the MX missile and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also known as the “Star Wars” system.

Opposition and Scandal

Caspar faced opposition from arms control advocates who believed that deploying the SDI would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He was involved in arms control negotiations such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START) and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) talks. In 1987, he resigned from the Pentagon, citing his wife’s failing health, but it was believed that his concerns over the Iran-Contra dealings and the congress’s objection to his budget-boosting plan were the actual reasons for his resignation.

Caspar was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, where the Reagan administration had a secret arms-deal with Iran. He was accused of not making efforts to stop the deal and of being involved in the dealing of US Hawk and TOW missiles with Iran. He was later cleared of the charges by President George HW Bush.

Later Life and Death

After his retirement, Caspar wrote several books, including Fighting for Peace and The Next War. He also became the publisher and chairman of Forbes magazine. He co-wrote a novel titled Chain of Command and a non-fiction book called Home of the Brave: A Tribute to Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror.

Caspar was an honorary member of the Founding Council of the Rothermere American Institute at the University of Oxford. He was married to Rebecca Jane Dalton, and they had a daughter and a son. Caspar passed away on March 28, 2006, due to pneumonia. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on April 4, 2006.

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