Harry S Truman

— 33rd President of the United States —

View full portraits at:
National Portrait Gallery or the White House Presidential Portrait Gallery


April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1953

BORN: May 8, 1884
Lamar, Missouri
December 26, 1972, Kansas City, Missouri
OCCUPATION: Farmer, businessman, public official
Bess Wallace, 1919

Armed with slogans like "The buck stops here," and "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen," Harry S Truman went about the gigantic task of filling the late President Roosevelt's shoes.

He was known to have a quick temper and to use salty language, which was refreshing to some people but scared others. While some liked his honesty, others thought his temper might start World War III.

Because he wore thick glasses, Truman was not allowed to play sports and would umpire baseball games instead of playing in them.

"To tell the truth," he once said, "I was kind of a sissy."At age nine, he contracted diphtheria, which temporarily paralyzed his arms and legs.

His name has been the source of trivia questions for years. He had no middle name, just the initial "S," which his parents gave him to represent his paternal grandfather, Anderson Shippe Truman, or his maternal grandfather, Solomon Young.

After he graduated from high school, Truman held various jobs before moving on to politics. His first elected office was that of Jackson County, Missouri judge. That catapulted him to U.S. senator before he became Franklin Roosevelt's vice president in 1945.

Many believed Truman had little chance to receive his party's nomination in 1948. But when the popular General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas dropped out, Truman won on the first ballot.

Practically everyone predicted defeat for Truman as he faced Thomas E. Dewey in the general election. There is a famous photo of Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with the headline "Dewey Defeats Truman."

The headline was wrong, of course, as Truman won a 49 to 45 percent decision.

Not one to shy away from a decision, it was under Truman's authority that the United States used the atomic bomb on Japan, thereby bringing about final victory in World War II.

After the First World War,Amerca tried to isolate itself from foreign affairs.Truman rejected this course of action after World War II. He set in motion Secretary of State George Marshall's plans to rebuild the European countries that were destroyed by World War II. The United Nations was formed in 1946, and his administration also promptly recognized the new nation of Israel at the end of the British mandate in Palestine in 1948.

Truman was also very cautious of the threat of communism and the danger it could present to world peace. The Truman Doctrine enabled the United States to come to the aid of free countries under the threat of communist invasion. Truman recognized that the Soviet Union might not be a direct threat to the United States, but a real danger was that one by one, U.S. allies might be swallowed up.

The spread of communism touched off the Korean War in 1950, when General Douglas MacArthur led U.S. troops into South Korea to fight back an invading North Korean communist army. MacArthur was later relieved of his command for disagreeing with Truman's policy, and the conflict lasted past Truman's administration.

Truman decided not to seek reelection, but stayed active in politics for many years by supporting the Democratic party. He died on December 26, 1972 at the age of 88.

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From the Shadows