Get to Know KC’s Hometown President, Harry S. Truman
With the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum set to debut its newly renovated space this fall, get to know the man himself, from his service in World War I to the Pendergast machine and how he shaped the modern world during his presidency.
Born in Lamar, MO, in 1884, Truman was raised in Independence, MO, a charming town just 20 minutes east of bustling Kansas City. As a boy, Truman exhibited an industrious nature, working at Crown Drug Store, a pharmacy and soda shop in what is now Independence Square. The location still stands today, and visitors make the pilgrimage to Clinton’s Soda Fountain to relive the magic of the era by enjoying malts, phosphates and ice cream shakes.
Other occupations kept Truman busy until he moved to out of town and spent 12 years farming. The Great War broke out in Europe in 1914, and by 1917, the United States had entered the fray. Truman pledged his abilities and departed for France, where he served as a captain in the Field Artillery. His experience—and that of countless other soldiers who participated in the conflict—is chronicled at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in KC.
After his service, Harry returned to Kansas City, where he opened a haberdashery to sell men’s goods, including clothing, accessories and other essentials. But it wasn’t until 1922 that Truman’s career took off. The Democrat was elected to a judgeship in the Jackson County Court, thanks in part to the backing of Tom Pendergast, a political boss who oversaw KC’s rise as the Paris of the Plains during Prohibition.
Senate Career and Vice Presidency
A failed reelection campaign in 1924 followed, but only two years later, Truman was back in office, this time as the presiding judge of the Jackson County Court. Upon his term expiring in 1934, the Democrat filed as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, first defeating other primary contenders in August and finally winning against the Republican incumbent in November. Six years later, Truman would win reelection by less than 50,000 votes.
In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt began his campaign for an unprecedented fourth term in office. He’d overseen the country’s World War II efforts and sought to finish the job. Yet while the current vice president was popular, Roosevelt’s advisors sought to make a change, and Truman was subsequently nominated at the Democratic National Convention to run alongside the president. The duo won the contest in November and were sworn into office in January 1945.
Roosevelt’s fourth term was short-lived. After suffering from failing health for years, the president suffered a brain hemorrhage on April 12, 1945; Truman officially became the new commander-in-chief shortly thereafter.
While it’s impossible to truly incapsulate an entire presidency in a few short words, Truman’s most notable accomplishments, policies and decisions helped shape the world as we know it today. Among them, Truman:
- Oversaw the surrenders of Germany and Japan, thereby ending World War II (1945)
- Signed the United Nations charter, leading the United States as the first nation to ratify and join the organization (1945)
- Implemented the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe after the Second World War (1948)
- Recognized the state of Israel (1948)
- Desegregated the United States military (1948)
- Spent election night at The Elms Hotel in Excelsior Springs, where upon waking, he discovered that he’d been reelected to the presidency despite editorial and political forecasts almost unanimously predicting his demise with headlines like “Dewey Defeats Truman” (1948)
- Led the U.S. and U.N. into the Korean War, launching the first major conflict of the Cold War, which would shape American foreign policy for the next four decades (1950-1953)
Truman Library Institute
A major anniversary and a monumental renovation mark the biggest year in recent memory for the Truman Library Institute and the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Set to debut fall 2020, the museum and library will reopen to the public after the largest renovation in the museum’s history.
State-of-the-art technology will breathe new life into one of only 14 presidential libraries in the country, offering new permanent exhibits with hands-on interactives, family-friendly amenities and engaging programming. Plus, major events throughout the year help commemorate the 75th anniversary of Truman taking the presidential oath of office.
Celebrate the legacy of Independence’s hometown commander-in-chief with Wild About Harry 2020 (April 23) and Truman’s 136th birthday, which coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Allied victory in World War II (May 8)—and so much more.