Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman

33rd President, 1945-1953

Early Life and Pre-presidency

Official Presidential portrait of Truman Artist: Greta Kempton, 1945

Official Presidential portrait of Truman
Artist: Greta Kempton, 1945

  • Born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri.
  • Parents: John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen Young. Siblings: John Vivian and Mary Jane.
  • His family moved to Independence, Missouri where he attended the local school and graduated from Independence High School in 1901.
  • Due to financial difficulties he was unable to attend college. He wanted to enter West Point but could not because of his poor eyesight. He enrolled in a Kansas business school in 1901 but dropped out after one semester.
  • Worked as a timekeeper for a railroad company, as a bank clerk, and in the mailroom of Kansas City Star. He returned to his grandparents’ Grandview, Missouri farm in 1906 where he farmed.
  • Joined the Missouri Army National Guard in 1905 and served until 1911.
  • Rejoined the National Guard in 1917 at the onset of World War I and later became a member of the 129th Artillery Regiment.
  • Became battery commander when his regiment was shipped to France in March 1918. He served until the end of the war in November 1918, then returned to Independence.
  • Married Elizabeth “Bess” Virginia Wallace (1885–1982) on June 28, 1919. Child: Mary Margaret (1924–2008)
  • Opened a haberdashery in Kansas City with a partner, but it went bankrupt in 1921 during the depression.
  • Elected judge of a county court in 1922. The position was not a judicial position, but an administrative one. He lost a re-election bid in 1924.
  • Elected as presiding judge of the county court in 1926 and served until 1933.
  • Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934 and served until 1944.
  • Chosen as the Vice Presidential candidate to Franklin D. Roosevelt by the Democratic Party for the 1944 Presidential election and won.
  • He was vice president for only 82 days. On April 12, 1945, he had just adjourned a Senate session when he was summoned to the White House. Once he arrived, President Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, informed him that the President had died.

Presidency

Truman circa 1945

Truman circa 1945

  • Took his oath of office on April 12, 1945 at the Cabinet Room in the White House.
  • When he took office, the Second World War in Europe had just ended. He proclaimed Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 1945, the day the Allies officially accepted German surrender.
  • On April 25, 1945, Truman was informed by his Secretary of War about a new weapon that the U.S. had just developed – the atomic bomb.
  • When the Japanese Imperial Army refused to surrender, Truman ordered the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hirsohima on August 6, 1945. Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945.
  • Presented his own 21-point post-war and politcal agenda to Congress in September 1945.
  • Sent a delegate to the United Nations’ First General Assembly on January 10, 1946 in Westminster, London. The delegation included former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
  • On March 12, 1947, delivered the “Truman Doctrine” speech to Congress urging appropriation to aid Greece and Turkey from falling into Soviet Union control. In May 1947, Truman signed the approved appropriation.
  • On June 20, 1947, Truman vetoed the Taft–Hartley Act, which cut back the power of labor unions significantly. Congress overrode his veto 3 days later.
  • Signed the National Security Act in July 1947. The law merged the Department of War and the Department of the Navy to what would later become the Department of Defense. It also created the U.S. Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council.
  • When the Soviet Union blockaded all overland access routes to West Berlin on June 24, 1948, Truman ordered the airlifting of supplies to West Berlin. The Soviet Union would lift the blockade in May 1949.
  • Truman was elected to a full term as President in the 1948 election. He decided not to run for a second elected term in the 1952 election.
  • In his State of the Union Address, he proposed his “Fair Deal” program. Only one of his proposed programs was signed into law: the Housing Act of 1949.
  • Supported the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in April 1949.
  • In June 1950, Truman ordered American troops in Japan and Korea, along with United Nations troops, to head north when North Korea invaded South Korea.
  • Fearing subversion by communists in the government, Congress passed the McCarran Internal Security Act in September 1950. Truman vetoed the act, but Congress overrode his veto.

Post-presidency

Truman at his desk in the Oval Office, 1950

Truman at his desk in the Oval Office, 1950

  • Retired to Independece, Missouri after leaving the White House.
  • Upon retiring, he had only his $112 a month army pension to rely on, so he decided to write his memoir. Although he received only a small flat payment for the two volumes published in 1955 and 1956, they were a critical and commercial success.
  • Truman’s financial hardship led Congress to pass the Former Presidents Act in 1958, which provided a $25,000 annual pension to former Presidents.
  • Received an honorary degree in Civic Law from Oxford University in 1956.
  • Worked to create his Presidential library by asking for private donations. He testified before Congress of the need to appropriate money to copy and organize Presidential papers. Congress passed a bill to that effect in 1957.
  • The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri was dedicated on July 6, 1957. Truman maintained an office in the library throughout his lifetime and oversaw its day-to-day operations in the beginning.
  • President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare Act at the library in 1965. He presented Truman and his wife with their own Medicare card in recognition of their efforts to provide government health care.
  • Contracted pneumonia and was admitted to the Research Hospital and Medical Center in Kansas City on December 5, 1972.
  • Died on December 26, 1972 of multiple organ failure. His wife declined a state funeral opting instead for a simple service at the library’s auditorium.
  • He was buried on the grounds of his Presidential library on December 27, 1972.
  • A memorial service was held at Washington National Cathedral one week after his funeral. It was attended by Washington officials and foreign dignitaries.
  • Posthumously awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal in 1984.
  • The Harry S. Truman National Historic Site includes his home in Independence, Missouri and the family’s Grandview farm. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1983.
  • The Harry S. Truman Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1971. It includes Truman’s home as well as other homes in the district and areas downtown where Truman worked.
  • A scholarship that bears his name is a federal program that provides scholarship to U.S. college students who are dedicated to public service and show leadership in public policy. It has been awarded since 1972.