Biography and History

William Cattell Trimble was born May 2, 1907 in Baltimore, Maryland. A member of the Princeton University Class of 1930, he graduated cum laude with an A.B. in history. In 1931, he joined the Foreign Service and was posted to Seville, Spain. While steadily rising in the ranks of the Foreign Service he worked in legations and embassies in Argentina, Estonia, and Mexico, among other locations.

After World War II, Trimble was a member of the first class at the National War College. Upon completion of his studies, he went to Reykjavik, Iceland as Chargé d'Affaires and Second Secretary and then as First Secretary in 1948. Two years later he became Counselor of the embassy at London. The State Department transferred him in late 1951 to The Hague where he remained until spring 1954 as Counselor and Deputy Chief of Mission.

In March 1954, Trimble moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as second in command of the embassy. That same year he attained the personal rank of minister, the second highest rank in the Foreign Service. While in Brazil, Trimble witnessed the end of the Vargas era that culminated with Getulio Vargas's suicide and elections for a new president in 1955. At the end of January 1956, the embassy played host to Vice President Richard Nixon during his visit to Brazil as the United States representative at the inauguration of Juscelino Kubitschek as President of Brazil.

In September 1956, Trimble returned to Europe to serve as Deputy Chief of Mission at Bonn, Germany. He served under Ambassador James Conant and then welcomed David Bruce as ambassador in 1957. Trimble served in Germany during the dissolution of the U.S. High Commission after it was abolished by the Allied High Commission. Its functions were transferred to the U.S. embassy in Bonn, and Trimble played an integral role in this process.

The culmination of Trimble's long diplomatic career came in February 1959 when he became the United States Ambassador to Cambodia. Trimble arrived in Cambodia in the midst of a political crisis over Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) involvement with Dap Chhuon, a political adversary of Prince Sihanouk, who headed a brief rebellion. This crisis was shortly followed on August 31 by the death of a palace staff member who opened a suitcase containing the card of an American engineer. The general consensus among Cambodians was that the United States was responsible for an attempt on Prince Sihanouk's life. Trimble's position was very difficult due to Sihanouk's distrust of the United States. In September 1960, Sihanouk effectively ended American hopes of gaining Cambodia as an ally against Communism by expressing Cambodian neutrality during a United Nations speech.

Upon his return to the United States in September 1962, Trimble became Director of the Office of West Coast and Malian Affairs. The Office oversaw U.S. relations with seven countries: Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia, Togo, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Ghana. Trimble visited four of these countries - Nigeria, Togo, Ghana and Liberia - to gain first-hand experience for his new post. To deal with increasingly important African affairs, the Africa Desk was reorganized as the Office of West African Affairs with seven additional countries placed under its supervision: Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Dahomey (now Bénin), Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). Five more countries, Chad, the Central African Republic, Gabon, Cameroon, and Madagascar, were added in September 1964.

In May 1965, Trimble was promoted to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under Assistant Secretary of State G. Mennen Williams. Trimble was responsible for the Department's African Bureau.

Trimble retired from the State Department in February 1968, and lived in Maryland until his death on June 24, 1996.

Source: From the finding aid for MC027

  • William Cattell Trimble Papers. 1931-1976 (inclusive), 1954-1968 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC027

    William C. Trimble, Princeton University Class of 1930, was a career diplomat, serving as United States ambassador to Cambodia (1959-1962) and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (1965-1968) as well as serving in Brazil and Germany. The collection contains correspondence, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, and assorted memorabilia documenting Trimble's career.