Harry S. Truman Biography

33rd President of the United States

Years Served as President: 1945-1953

Vice President: Alben William Barkley

Party: Democrat

Age at Inauguration: 60

Harry S. Truman picture

Home State: Missouri

Date of Birth: May 8, 1884

Died: December 26, 1972

Married: Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace

Children: Mary Margaret

Nickname: Give ‘Em Hell Harry

What is Harry S. Truman known for?

Harry S. Truman took over the presidency when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died during his fourth presidential term.

Franklin D Roosevelt painting
Franklin D Roosevelt

He is known for making the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan, helping to rebuild postwar Europe, and leading the United States into the Korean War.

Early Life

Harry S. Truman was born in the small farming community of Lamar, Missouri in 1884. His parents were Martha and John, a livestock trader.

seal-of-missouri

The family, including Harry’s siblings Vivian and Mary Jane, moved to Independence, Missouri in 1890. There, Harry became a hard-working student with an interest in books and music.

After graduating from high school, he wanted to attend the military school West Point, but his eyesight was too poor. Harry also soon realized that his parents did not have the money to send him to college.

poor

Instead, he worked various jobs including farmer, bank clerk, construction worker, and railroad timekeeper. Truman enjoyed none of these jobs.

He tried to earn a living operating a small mining company and becoming a partner in an oil business, but didn’t succeed. In the meantime, he joined the National Guard, which he did enjoy.

Family Life

In 1910, Truman began dating Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace, who had attended his high school. The couple eventually married in 1919 in Independence, Missouri.

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Four years later, they had their only child, Mary Margaret. Truman was an extremely devoted family man. Even in the White House, he tried to sit down for lunch and dinner with his family every day.

Political and Military Career

During World War I, Truman’s National Guard regiment shipped out to France. By this point, Truman had risen to the rank of captain and gained a reputation for turning his rowdy unit into a top-notch group.

france-flag

It was after returning from the war that Truman married Bess. He also opened a clothing company with a friend, but the business did not survive the poor economy of the Great Depression.

In 1922, Truman entered politics when he was elected district judge in Jackson County, Missouri. In 1926, he was elected the county’s presiding judge and served two terms.

Truman was then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934, where he supported Roosevelt’s New Deal reform and helped lift the country out of the Great Depression.

stock market crash and panic

As a Senator, Truman became famous for leading the “Truman Committee,” officially named the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program.

The Truman Committee worked to reduce waste in U.S. military spending, and it ended up saving taxpayers millions of dollars.

When Roosevelt decided to run for a fourth term, he asked Truman to be his vice-presidential running mate. Truman agreed, and the pair won.

military

Less than three months later, Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage, and a shocked Truman was sworn in as president of the United States.

Presidency

Truman took office as World War II was coming to a close. Germany surrendered, but Truman still had Japan to worry about.

To end the war in the Pacific and avoid invading Japan, Truman authorized the dropping of atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

atomic bomb

Japan surrendered five days after the bombs were dropped. However, Truman’s decision remains one of the most controversial in presidential history. It was the only time nuclear weapons have been used in combat.

The war was over, but many issues remained. Truman helped European nations rebuild with the Marshall Plan, providing billions of dollars in aid.

Truman also fought against the spread of communism by the Soviet Union. He had a policy of containment, attempting to protect other nations from communist aggression.

russia-map

During his second term, he formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with Canada and Western Europe. The countries agreed to protect each other from Soviet Union.

This started the Cold War, a period of escalating tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

As war began to break out in other parts of the world, Truman sent U.S. troops to fight the Korean War. He also sent aid to Vietnam.

vietnam war

After the Presidency

Truman was eligible to run again, but he announced that he would not do so. He and Bess traveled by train back to their home in Independence, Missouri.

Back home, Truman wrote his memoirs and raised funds for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. The library opened in Independence in 1957.

Truman died in 1972 at the age of 88 and was buried in the Truman Library’s courtyard. When Bess died 10 years later at age 97, she was buried beside him.

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

Fun Facts About Harry S. Truman

The “S” in Harry S. Truman did not stand for a specific name, but it was given to Harry in honor of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young.

Truman was especially skilled at playing the piano and briefly dreamed of becoming a concert pianist.

Each morning, Truman awoke at 5:00 and took a one- or two-mile walk around the White House grounds. Oddly, he did this while wearing a business suit and tie.

Obama Easter Egg roll
President Barack Obama cheers on kids taking part in the Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House, April 25, 2011.

However, after an assassination attempt in 1950, Truman had to take his walks at undisclosed locations with the Secret Service.

The 1948 election against Thomas Dewey was so close that one newspaper accidentally ran the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Truman second inauguration 1949

Truman’s second inauguration was the first to be nationally televised.

US Presidents