Harry S. Truman was probably the last “regular” American to serve as President of the United States.
Without a college degree and holding common jobs, Truman worked his way up the Democratic Party’s leadership in the 1920s.
Following his service as an Army officer during World War I, Truman returned home to Missouri. He and a friend opened a store in Kansas City. He married Bess Wallace in 1919.
The store failed and went bankrupt in 1921. His political career soon took off, as his debts were settled by Democratic Party boss Tom Pendergast. With Pendergast’s support, Truman became a precinct captain.
He continued his local political career as a county judge and played a role in developing local counties through public works projects.
Eventually, Truman found his way into the US Senate and then as Vice President under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s death in office led to Truman’s ascension from a Missouri farm boy to the most powerful person in the world
The presidential library and museum offer a great insight into the Truman presidency.
The museum covered his life – from Truman’s youth and his early days of business and politics through his presidency and post-presidency life.
As a national politician, Truman rose to a position in the United States Senate that led to him being named as the compromise to be the running mate for Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth term in 1944. Roosevelt died in office just over a month into his fourth term. Truman became the 33rd president.
Truman became a reluctant President of the United States in 1945. He kept a desk plaque in the Oval Office that read, “The Buck Stops Here,” meaning he was ultimately responsible for the successes ad failures of the federal government.
He was thrust into ending World War II with a world-changing decision. He reluctantly agreed to approve dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in an effort to end the war in the Pacific theater. The war came to an end following the second bomb being dropped on Nagasaki.
The decision to use atomic bombs was not easily made or widely supported. It was a controversial decision.
Following the end of WWII, the returning soldiers and sailors led to more issues. The economy was not booming as projected. Society issues ensued.
As the 1948 presidential election approached, Truman was not popular in the polls. Truman pulled off a surprise “re-election” victory. The Chicago Tribune ran a famous headline messing up the result – “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
Having won a full term of his own, Truman set forth an enthusiastic agenda. He had plans for several social programs, including national health care. His agenda did not have a lot of success, because of a struggling economy and war breaking out in Korea. The Asian battles took attention away from his domestic agenda.
However, among Truman’s second term successes included the Marshall Plan. George Marshall, then secretary of the State, led the economic and physical development of Europe following World War II.
Berlin, Germany became a focal point of the ensuing Cold War between the Allied nations (US and western Europe) and the Soviet bloc of eastern Europe. The Soviets barricaded Berlin from the West and refused to let supplies come into he city. At this point, Germany had been divided in half – West Germany was democratic and East Germany fell under Soviet control. The United States led a campaign to drop food, clothes and water into Berlin. The Berlin Airlift proved successful.
Truman desegregated the military through an executive order. He banned racial discrimination in the federal government.
Truman, while at 30 percent approval rating, left office following the 1952 election to a booming economy.
Truman enjoyed a quiet post-presidency life. He and wife Bess returned to Independence. He walked daily, so it was common to see average citizens walk and visit with him. After the presidential library opened, Truman would personally lead tours for some visitors.
The President and his wife are buried in a courtyard at the museum.
In addition to visiting the presidential library and museum, Independence has a few more Truman-related spots.
Downtown, Truman’s first job was as a clerk at the Clinton Drug Store. The store is now an ice cream and soda fountain store.
The Trumans’ home is located a few blocks from downtown Independence. They lived there before and after their time in Washington, DC.
Harry S. Truman lived through serious times in our nation’s history. His goal was ultimately to make the United States a better country. The presidential library and museum highlights those dreams.
For more information on the Truman Library and Museum, please visit www.trumanlibrary.org.