McClelland, David C. (David Clarence), 1917-1998

Alternative names
Birth 1917-05-20
Death 1998-03-27

Biographical notes:

David C. McClelland was a Harvard psychologist, noted especially for his work on achievement motivation .

  • 1917: Born May 20, 1917 in Mt. Vernon, New York
  • 1933: Graduates from Jacksonville, Illinois, High School
  • 1933 - 1934 : Special student in languages at Macmurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois
  • 1938: Graduates from Wesleyan University , with an A.B. in Psychology
  • 1938: First marriage to Mary Sharpless, June 25, 1938
  • 1939: Obtains an A.M. from the University of Missouri in Psychology
  • 1941: Obtains a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Yale University Becomes Instructor of Psychology at Connecticut College
  • 1942: Leaves Connecticut College Instructor of Psychology at Wesleyan University
  • 1943: Served as Assistant and Acting personnel secretary of the American Friends Service Committee , Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1944: Part-time lecturer in Psychology at Bryn Mawr College
  • 1945: Becomes an Assistant Professor on Psychology at Wesleyan University Ends Part-time position teaching at Bryn Mawr College
  • 1946: Becomes Chairman of the Department of Psychology at Wesleyan University
  • Summer 1947: Assistant Director, Sky Island Hostel for European Refugees (American Friends Service Committee)
  • 1948: Becomes and Associate Professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University Fellow of the American Psychological Association
  • 1949 - 1950 : Lectures in Social Psychology at Harvard University , then returns to Wesleyan University
  • Fall 1950: Becomes a staff consultant for the Social Science Research Council . This was in connection with the Ford Foundation Program for basic Social Science Development
  • 1951: Salzburg, Austria Salzburg Salzburg Stadt Salzburg Lectures in Social Psychology at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies , Salzburg, Austria Publishes Personality, with J.W. Atkinson, R.A. Clark, E.L. Lowell Becomes member of the psychology panel, National Research Council
  • 1952 - 1953 : Serves as Deputy Director of the Behavioral Sciences division of the Ford Foundation
  • 1953: Becomes a Professor of Psychology at Wesleyan University Member of the Fullbright Award Committee
  • Summer 1953: Lecturer in the behavioral sciences, Diplomats' Conferences, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, Clarens, Switzerland
  • 1955: Publishes Studies in Motivation
  • 1956: Leaves Wesleyan University to become a Professor of Psychology in the Harvard University Department of Social Relations Honorary M.A. from Harvard University Member of the training grants committee, National Institutes of Mental Health Chairman of Staff, Center for Research in Personality
  • 1957: Honorary Sc.D. from Wesleyan University Fellow, American Academy of Science
  • 1958: Germany Federal Republic of Germany Honorary D.Phil. from the University of Maintz , Germany Receives Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 1959: Travels to Italy with Guggenheim fellowship
  • 1961: Publishes The Achieving Society, with D.G. Winter Lectures in Social Psychology at the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, Salzburg, Austria
  • 1962: Chairman of the Department of Social Relations, Harvard University ,
  • 1962 - 1963 : Master, South House, Radcliffe College
  • 1963: Co-founder of McBer Consulting Co. (now a part of the Hay Institute ). McBer assists managers in evaluating and training their employees. Honorary L.L.D. MacMurray College Submits proposal to the National Education Association to offer seventh graders in good standing college scholarships to encourage motivation.
  • 1963 - 1964 : India Republic of India Tunisia Tunisian Republic Sabbatical year from Harvard University. Travels to India and Tunisia organizing research on entrepreneurial motivation.
  • 1964: Publishes The Roots of Consciousness Chairman of the Staff, Center for Research in Personality President of the Eastern Psychological Association
  • 1965: Becomes a member of the American Psychological Association Committee on Psychology in National and International Affairs
  • 1967: Becomes President of the New England Psychological Association Ends service as Chairman of the Department of Social Relations, Harvard University Ends service as Chairman of the Staff, Center for Research in Personality
  • Spring, 1968 : Southeast Asia Southeast Asia Southeast Volunteer Fire Department Station 2 Southeast Pond Southeast Point Southeast Shoal Southeast Pond Southeast Elementary School Southeast Fire District Station 30 Southeast Laterals Watershed Reservoir Number 7 Southeast Houma Gas Field Southeast Christian Academy Southeastern Poultry Research Laboratory Southeast Park School (historical) Southeast Moss Hill Oil Field Southeast Ridge Southeast Iron Chapel Oil Field Southeast Tank Baptist Hospital of Southeast Texas Heliport Southeastern Medical Center Southeast Arkansas Law Enforcement Center- Highway Patrol Station Fairfield County Fire Department Southeastern Southeast Branch Library Southeast Arm East Africa Eastern Africa Presbyterian Church of East Africa Kibera Emmanuel Technical Training Center East Orange African Methodist Episcopal Church Presbyterian Church of East Africa High School and Pre-School Peace Corps consultant, travels to Southeast Asia and East Africa
  • 1969: Member of the Faculty of Education at Harvard University Graduate School of Education
  • 1970: Honorary D.Litt. from Albion College
  • 1972: Tunisia Tunisian Republic Morocco Kingdom of Morocco Spain Kingdom of Spain France Republic of France Mexico Mexico Travels to Tunisia, Morocco, Spain, France, and Mexico as a U.S. Information Agency Consultant
  • 1972: Indonesia Republic of Indonesia Sri Lanka Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Takes a leave from Harvard. Travels to Indonesia to participate in a UNIDO conference, spends three months in Sri Lanka, writes Need for Power
  • 1973: Ends teaching as a Faculty of Education at Harvard University
  • 1973: Has article published in The American Psychologist stating that IQ and personality tests are poor indicators of a person's competence
  • 1974: Sri Lanka Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka India Republic of India Ethiopia Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Travels as part of the U.S. Information Service to Sri Lanka, India, and Ethiopia.
  • 1975: Publishes Power: The Inner Experience
  • 1976: Receives the McKinsey Award
  • 1980: First wife, Mary, dies in December
  • October 10, 1981: Second marriage to Marian Adams
  • 1986: Retires, becoming emeritus professor of Harvard University
  • 1986: Distinguished research professor of psychology at Boston University
  • 1987: Receives the award for Distinguished Scientific contribution from the American Psychological Association
  • March 27, 1998: Receives the Bruno Klopfer Award from the Society for Personality Assessment Dies.
  • 1999: Receives the Henry A. Murray Award from the American Psychological Association Division 8
From the guide to the Papers of David McClelland, 1900-1998, (Harvard University Archives)

David McClelland was born in Mt. Vernon, New York on May 20, 1917. He obtained his BA from Wesleyan University in 1938, his MA from the University of Missouri in 1939, and his PhD from Yale in 1941. He taught at Wesleyan University for a number of years before joining the faculty at Harvard in 1956. He spent 30 years at Harvard and served as chairman of the Department of Social Relations. In 1987, McClelland moved to the University of Boston and remained there until his death. It was at Boston he received APA's Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions.

McClelland is well-known for his work on need theory, the belief that needs are acquired over time and are based on the individual's life experiences. He was considered an expert on human motivation and entrepreneurship. In 1963, he started McBer, a consulting company that aided managers in assessing and training employees. He also developed new scoring systems for the Thematic Apperception Test, a test aimed at assessing an individual's unconscious needs for achievement, power, and intimacy.

McClelland died on March 27, 1998 in Lexington, Massachusetts.

From the guide to the David C. McClelland papers, 1941-1982, (Center for the History of Psychology)


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  • Psychology
  • History of psychology
  • Children's literature--Cross-cultural studies
  • Businessmen--Psychology--Cross-cultural studies
  • Motivation (Psychology)--Research
  • Psychologists
  • Endowment of research
  • Psychologists--United States
  • Human capital
  • Child development--Cross-cultural studies
  • Entrepreneurship--Cross-cultural studies
  • Developmental psychology and motivation
  • Educator--Interviews
  • Child rearing
  • Thematic Apperception Test
  • Industrial psychology and organizational behaviour
  • Achievement motivation--Cross-cultural studies


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