Presidents: Harry S. Truman

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Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman became president less than three months after becoming Vice President. He became president in the last days of World War II.

Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri. He was the oldest child of John Anderson and Martha Ellen Young Truman. The S did not stand for anything. Some reports say it stood for both of his grandfathers and other reports say he chose it in adult hood.

“As a boy, Truman was interested in music, reading, war, and history, all encouraged by his mother, with whom he was very close. As president, he solicited political as well as personal advice from her. He got up at five every morning to practice the piano, which he studied twice a week until he was fifteen.”

Truman worked as a page at the 1900 Democratic National Convention at Convention Hall in Kansas City.

After graduating high school, he studied book keeping, became a timekeeper, worked in the mail room of the Kansas City Star and other clerical jobs.

He was unable to afford university tuition, but did consider a career in law. He applied for the U.S. Military Academy but was turned down due to poor eyesight. He returned to the 600 acres farm, Grandview, where he grew up and in 1906. He began to date Bess Wallace and proposed in 1911, but she turned him down.

Harry S. Truman

While working on the farm, he began to dabble actively in a variety of business ventures.

In 1905, he joined that National Guard and passed the eye test by memorizing it. He served until 1911, but rejoined when the U.S. entered World War I. He initially helped to recruit new soldiers. Eventually he shipped out to France, but not before becoming engaged to Bess Wallace.

In 1918, he was promoted to captain and commander of Company D, a unit known for their lack of discipline. Truman stood his ground and eventually seems to have earned their respect.

The war was a transformative experience for Truman that brought out his leadership qualities. In May 1919, he discharged from the Army as a major.

In 1920 he was appointed a major in the Reserve Officer Corps; he became a lieutenant colonel in 1925 and a colonel in 1932 and advanced to command the unit. He remained active until the early 1940s, when he became inactive. He retired on January 20, 1953.

Upon return to Independence, he married Bess Wallace on June 28, 1919. The couple had a daughter, Margaret, in 1924.

Harry S. Truman

Truman was elected in 1922 as County Court judge of Jackson County’s eastern district, which was an administrative position. He lost re-election in 1924 and sold automobile club memberships, which he did not enjoy.

In 1926, he was elected presiding judge and coordinated the “10 Year Plan” for his county.

In 1933, Truman was named Missouri’s director for the Federal Re-Employment program. This nomination created a relationship between Truman and people in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet.

In 1934, he was elected as a U.S. Senator from Missouri. In late 1940, Truman traveled to various military bases. The waste and profiteering which he saw led him to use his subcommittee chairmanship in the Committee on Military Affairs to begin investigations into abuses while the nation prepared for war. The Truman Committee was set up and he was appointed chairman. According to the Senate’s historical minutes, in leading the committee, “Truman erased his earlier public image as an errand-runner for Kansas City politicos” and “no senator ever gained greater political benefits from chairing a special investigating committee than did Missouri’s Harry S. Truman.”

In 1945, Roosevelt needed a new Vice President and Truman was one of the top picks. His nomination was well received and dubbed the “Second Missouri Compromise”. He was sworn in as Vice President on January 20, 1945.

Harry S. Truman

As Vice President, Roosevelt rarely contacted him and they only met together privately on two occasions.

Truman had been vice president for 82 days when President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. He was uninformed on the war and the top secret plan to test the world’s first atomic bomb.

“That afternoon, Truman presided over the Senate as usual. He had just adjourned the session for the day and was preparing to have a drink in House Speaker Sam Rayburn’s office when he received an urgent message to go immediately to the White House. Truman assumed that President Roosevelt wanted to meet with him, but Eleanor Roosevelt informed him that her husband had died after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Truman’s first concern was for Mrs. Roosevelt. He asked if there was anything that he could do for her, to which she replied, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now!””

Shortly after taking the oath of office, Truman spoke to reporters: “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”

Truman was not the typical president in that he enjoyed playing poker, drinking bourbon and his “give them hell” attitude.

Harry S. Truman

On May 8, 1945, the Germany surrendered and he proclaimed the day V-E Day. Hiroshima was bombed on August 6. On August 14, 1945 the Japanese made their surrender, now known as V-J Day. The end of World War II was followed by an uneasy transition from war to a peacetime economy.

In July 1947, President Truman’s mother died. They had always maintained a close relationship and he often sought her advice. She was 94 years old.

“Truman recognized the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, eleven minutes after it declared itself a nation.Of his decision to recognize the Israeli state, Truman wrote in his memoirs: “Hitler had been murdering Jews right and left. I saw it, and I dream about it even to this day. The Jews needed some place where they could go. It is my attitude that the American government couldn’t stand idly by while the victims [of] Hitler’s madness are not allowed to build new lives.”

Harry S. Truman

In 1948, he won the Democratic convention nomination. He is remembered for his stunning come-from-behind Victory. The picture of him holding the newspaper that Dewey beat Truman is well known. However, Truman won the election and his second inauguration on January 20, 1949 was the first ever inauguration televised nationally.

The Korean War began in 1950.

In 1948, Truman ordered an addition to the exterior of the White House: a second-floor balcony in the south portico, which came to be known as the “Truman Balcony”. This worked proved the structural faults and the White House was gutted and rebuilt on the inside. The family moved into the nearby Blair House during the renovations. As the newer West Wing, including the Oval Office, remained open, Truman walked to and from his work across the street each morning and afternoon. The work lasted a little over two years.

On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Truman at Blair House.

In 1952, President Truman announced he would not seek reelection. General Dwight D. Eisenhower won the election.

Upon leaving the presidency, Truman returned to Independence, Missouri, to live at the Wallace home he and Bess had shared for years with her mother.

He left with no personal savings and only an old army pension that was $112.56 a month. He received no pension for his public service.

Harry S. Truman

He took out a substantial personal loan and sold his memoirs, over half of which went to taxes.

The former president was quoted in 1957 as saying to then-House Majority Leader John McCormack, “Had it not been for the fact that I was able to sell some property that my brother, sister, and I inherited from our mother, I would practically be on relief, but with the sale of that property I am not financially embarrassed.” The following year, Congress passed the Former Presidents Act, offering a $25,000 yearly pension to each former president, and it is likely that Truman’s financial status played a role in the law’s enactment.

“Truman worked to garner private donations to build a presidential library, which he donated to the federal government to maintain and operate—a practice adopted by his successors. He testified before Congress to have money appropriated to have presidential papers copied and organized, and was proud of the bill’s passage in 1957. Max Skidmore, in his book on the life of former presidents, noted that Truman was a well-read man, especially in history. Skidmore added that the presidential papers legislation and the founding of his library “was the culmination of his interest in history. Together they constitute an enormous contribution to the United States—one of the greatest of any former president.””

Harry S. Truman

” In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare bill at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum and gave the first two Medicare cards to Truman and his wife Bess to honor the former president’s fight for government health care while in office.”

Harry S. Truman died on December 26, 1972 at the age of 88.

He is buried at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence.

Harry S. Truman is known as one of the hardest-working Presidents we’ve had. However, when he left office he was unpopular. History seems to be nicer and often ranks him as one of the better presidents.


33rd President of the United States
(April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1953)Nickname: “Give ‘Em Hell Harry”

Born: May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri
Died: December 26, 1972, in Kansas City, Missouri

Father: John Anderson Truman
Mother: Martha Ellen Young Truman
Married: Elizabeth “Bess” Virginia Wallace (1885-1982), on June 28, 1919
Children: Mary Margaret Truman (1924- )

Religion: Baptist
Education: Attended the University of Kansas City Law School
Occupation: Farmer, public official
Political Party: Democrat

  • Judge on Jackson County Court, 1922-24
  • Presiding Judge of Jackson County Court, 1926-34
  • United States Senator, 1935-45
  • Vice President, 1945

Presidential Salary: $75,000/year (increased to $100,000 + $50,000 expense account in 1949)

Atomic bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The Cold War begins and the McCarthy Witch hunts
The Korean War (1950-1953)

The S. in Harry S. Truman is an initial and does not stand for a given name

1884 Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri

1904 Panama Canal Zone acquired

1905 Franklin Roosevelt was married to Anna Eleanor Roosevelton March 17, 1905 They had 6 children

1908 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) established

1914 WW1 started 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918

1919 Treaty of Versailles

1919 Harry Truman was married to Elizabeth Virginia Wallace Truman on June 28, 1919. They had 1 child.

1924 Indian Reorganization Act

1927 Charles Lindbergh makes first trans-Atlantic flight
The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson is the first “talkie” to be released

1929 Great Depression begins

1922-24 Harry Truman became Judge on Jackson County Court, 1922-24

1926-34 Harry Truman became Presiding Judge of Jackson County Court, 1926-34

1935-45 Harry Truman became United States Senator, 1935-45

1939 Germany invades Poland; World War II begins

1941 Attack on Pearl Harbor
U.S. enters World War II

1945 Harry Truman became Vice President, 1945 (under F.D. Roosevelt)

1945 1945 Harry S. Truman became the President of the United States of America

1945 Atomic Bombs Dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945
End of World War II (1945)
United Nations Created (1945)
Nuremburg Trials (1945-1946)

1946 The Cold War began between the United States and the Soviet Union

1947 Truman Doctrine (1947)
Taft-Hartley Act – labor law moderately restricting union activity (1947)

1949 NATO Treaty (1949)

1950-1953 Korean Conflict (1950-1953) South Korea, an American ally, was invaded by the communist North Korea

1953 1953 The Presidency of Harry S. Truman ended

1957 Civil Rights Act of 1957
Russians launch Sputnik

1958 NASA formed

1959 Cuban Revolution

1960 Greensboro sit-in
Civil Rights Act of 1960

1961 Peace Corps
Vietnam War officially begins with 900 military advisors landing in Saigon
OPEC formed

1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

1963 President J Kennedy assassinated
March on Washington; Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream” speech

1964 Civil Rights Act of 1964

1968 Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy assassinated
Civil Rights Act of 1968

1969 Vietnam
Neil Armstrong walks on the moon

1972 Harry Truman died of Heart Failure on December 26, 1972 in Independence, Missouri. He was buried in the courtyard of the Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum and Library.


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