Virtual Tour of the Harry S Truman National Historic Site

Harry S Truman National Historic Site, National Park Service

A look at the residence of the 33rd President

Introduction

As a child, Harry Truman dreamed of being a concert pianist and of going to college. Instead, at 17 he had to start working full time. At 33 he deemed himself a failure. By 38 his clothing business was bankrupt. Determined to succeed at something he entered politics, eventually becoming a US senator. At 60 he was suddenly President of the United States, facing decisions that held worldwide consequences. Who was this common man abruptly thrust into this uncommon role?

Midwestern Values

Harry S Truman was born in rural Missouri but claimed Independence as his home town. The family moved there when he was six. That year Harry met five-year-old Bess Wallace, daughter of a prominent family. All his school years Harry adored Bess, the “beautiful young lady with the blue eyes and golden hair,” a popular girl and an accomplished athlete. But the frail-looking boy with thick glasses did not appeal to Bess. It took years for Harry to overcome his shyness and strike up a true
friendship.

In 1900 Truman got his first taste of politics when his father took him to the Democratic National Convention in Kansas City. Truman loved the excitement of the nominations and the promises of better times in the new century. But better times did not include young Truman. In 1901 his father dashed his dreams of college by losing the family savings in risky investments. Truman eventually found a good job as a bank clerk in Kansas City. He went to concerts and joined the National Guard. At 22 his life changed again when Truman’s father summoned him to help on the farm in Grandview. Truman heeded the call. He had never farmed before, and it was arduous work for someone used to city life.

Determination and Patience

In 1910 Harry and Bess crossed paths again. While visiting his aunt and uncle, the Nolands in Independence, Truman volunteered to return a cake plate to a neighbor, Mrs. Madge Wallace. Bess greeted him at the door, and their courtship began. He wrote Bess letters from Grandview and, in 1911, proposed marriage. She turned him down. By 1917, 33-year-old Truman was in the midst of World War I as an officer in the US Army. Captain Harry inspired his troops in France with his courage and determination. He brooked no insubordination, and he lost no man in battle. Finally Truman felt successful. His persistence paid off too when Bess Wallace agreed to marry him on
June 28, 1919. Truman opened a clothing store in Kansas City, and business thrived until a depression closed the shop. By 1922 Truman was looking for work.

Truman’s next job, politics, turned into a lifelong career. “Boss” Tom Pendergast, whose nephew knew Harry from Army days, backed Truman’s run for eastern district judge (administrative position) of Jackson County. Truman campaigned hard, won, and loved the job. His reputation for integrity and hard work impressed voters enough to win him a US Senate seat. The Truman family moved to Washington, DC, in 1935 but all remained Missourians at heart. In January 1945 Truman became Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president. Roosevelt died on April 12 and, at 7:09 pm, Harry S Truman became the 33rd US president.

Truman’s mother, Martha, instilled in Harry a love of music and books. He practiced the piano before school and by 14 had “read all the books in the Independence
Public Library.” Truman’s father, John, taught him the worth of hard work and of Midwestern values - honesty, courage, and perseverance.

The Buck Stops Here

The new president faced monumental decisions. First he carried on the drive to end World War II. He then turned to rebuilding war torn Europe and halting Communist expansion. A series of crises, the Korean War in particular, kept Truman away from Independence even more than during his senate years. Truman did not seek a third term. “I have had all of Washington I want,” he wrote. “I prefer my life in Missouri.”
Back home Truman enjoyed his walks and being with his family and friends once more.

"I tried never to forget who I was
and where I’d come from and
where I was going back to. . . .
After nearly eight years in the
White House and ten years in the
Senate, I found myself right back
where I started in Independence,
Missouri."

Harry S Truman

Credits: Story

Harry S Truman National Historic Site, National Park Service

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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