33rd PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
“I never did give them hell.
I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”
—Harry S Truman
(entry from Missouri Legends)
President Harry S Truman is perhaps the best known and most famous of all Missourians. He rose to political power in his home state and then climbed the ladder to worldwide prominence as the leader of the free world. He was the first and so far the only Missourian to call the White House his home, as he served as the thirty-third president of the United States of America. But no matter how far his travels took him, Truman still considered the Show Me State his home.
THE EARLY YEARS
He was one of the most revered presidents in our nation’s history, and his story began in the small town of Lamar. Harry S Truman was born on May 8, 1884, to John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen (Young) Truman. He was the first child, later joined by a brother, Vivian, and sister, Mary Jane.
The family moved several times during Truman’s childhood, including to a farm near Grandview in 1887 when he was three, then again when he was around six years old to Independence. That’s where Harry attended public schools and graduated from high school in 1901.
RISE TO FAME
After high school, Truman worked briefly as a timekeeper for a railroad construction contractor. The position wasn’t exactly a dream job for a restless youngster, so he quit to take a job as a clerk in a pair of Kansas City banks. After a taste of the big city, he returned to Grandview in 1906 at the age of twenty-two to help his father run the family farm where he worked for the next eleven years. During his time on the farm, he also served in the Missouri National Guard. His leadership skills and strong work ethic allowed him to take part in organizing the 2nd Regiment of Missouri Field Artillery as the United States entered World War I. His artillery group was mobilized into action in France, where the thirty-three year old was promoted to captain and given command of the regiment’s Battery D. After his World War I duty was over, he joined the reserves and rose to the rank of colonel. He tried to return to active duty when World War II started, but he was declined.
Harry returned home after WWII and married his childhood sweetheart, Bess Wallace. His postwar job was running a men’s clothing store in Kansas City, but times were hard and the business went belly-up in the postwar recession. Truman avoided bankruptcy, but the lessons learned from this difficult time made a lasting impact on his character and how he treated others. His next stop: elective office.
Truman was elected one of three judges of the Jackson County Court in 1922. Judge Truman’s duties were more administrative than judicial, and he built a reputation for honesty and efficiency in the management of county affairs. He was defeated for reelection in 1924 but won his next election to become the presiding judge in the Jackson County Court in 1926.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
In 1934, Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate. He had significant roles in the passage of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 and the Transportation Act of 1940. After being reelected in 1940, Truman gained national prominence as chairman of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which became known as the Truman Committee. The job of the agency was to make sure that defense contractors made quality goods for the armed services while charging the government fair prices. A large number of critics, however, contend that the agency didn’t exactly fulfill its mission.
In July 1944, Truman was nominated to run for vice president with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The pair won the election, and on January 20, 1945, he took the vice presidential oath of office. President Roosevelt’s unexpected death eighty-two days later ushered Truman into the oval office as he was sworn in as the nation’s thirty-third president.
He took the helm of the presidency during a tumultuous time in United States and world history. He presided over the country during the waning stages of World War II, where he made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. He also led the country through the Korean Conflict and became the namesake for the Truman Doctrine, which was a foreign policy initiative designed to curtail the spread of communism.
Truman won reelection in 1948, despite predictions of defeat. Newspapers even jumped the gun, proclaiming the demise of the Truman presidency, made famous by Truman holding up the newspaper proclaiming, “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Much of his second term is defined by the continuing struggle to keep the Soviet Union and the spread of communism in check.
Truman retuned to Independence in January 1953, where he spent the rest of his life. For the next twenty years, he worked at what he called being “Mr. Citizen.” He spent his days reading, writing, lecturing, taking long walks, and founding his presidential library. Truman died in 1972, his wife passed away in 1982, and they are buried side by side in Independence in the library’s courtyard. President Truman’s popularity continues to remain high even to this day, as thousands of people visit his hometown every year to pay their respects to our nation’s thirty-third president.
*Harry S Truman’s middle name is “S.” He ended up with the single-letter name because of a feud between his parents about which grandfather to name him after!
*When Truman was growing up, Independence was one of the last civilizations of the West before travelers entered the wilderness.