1945-1953DemocratMay 8, 1884, in Lamar, MissouriDecember 26, 1972, in Independence, Missouri
Vice PresidentFirst LadyPrevious OccupationsStates in Union
Alben W. BarkleyElizabeth (Bess) Virginia Wallace Truman (Wife)Farmer, Businessman, Public Official48


Truman’s parents were John Anderson and Martha Ellen Young Truman. Truman married Elizabeth Virginia Wallace in 1919. They had one daughter, Margaret.


Truman had been vice president only 83 days when President Roosevelt’s untimely death thrust him into the presidency. Though World War II was in its final days, the weight of the world was laid at Truman’s feet.

In early May of 1945 the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany. However, Japan still refused to surrender. Truman consulted with his advisers and then ordered that two atomic bombs be dropped on Japan: one on Hiroshima, the other on Nagasaki. The consequences were devastating as tens of thousands were killed immediately. The Japanese surrendered quickly, bringing the war to an end.

Following the war Truman proposed a 21-point military and economic plan to Congress intended to transition the country back into peacetime, hoping to “achieve as full peacetime production and employment as possible in the most efficient and speedy manner.”

In the wake of World War II lay the growing threat of Communism, as Joseph Stalin began establishing communist governments in Eastern European countries to protect the Soviet Union. Truman recognized the need to develop a Cold War policy to handle this new period of tension. In 1947 he announced the “Truman Doctrine,” a policy dictating that the U.S. should actively prevent the spread of Communism, but not necessarily act to liberate countries that had already fallen to it. Following this policy Truman asked Congress to aid Greece and Turkey when they became threatened by the Soviet Union. Truman also sent troops to aid South Korea when Communist North Korea invaded. In addition to the Truman Doctrine, Congress passed the National Security Act, which restructured the armed forces, foreign policy, and intelligence operations. The Department of War was merged with the Department of the Navy into the newly created Department of Defense. The National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency were also created to centralize national security policy and intelligence. A third component of the Cold War policy was the Marshall Plan. Proposed by Secretary of State George Marshall, the Marshall Plan provided $13 billion of financial aid to rebuild war-torn, non-Communist Western European nations. And in 1949 Truman entered the U.S. into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which created a military alliance to defend member nations against the Soviet Union.

Truman campaigned hard to win the election of 1948, traveling around the country to win over the people. Many dismissed his candidacy. In fact, the Chicago Daily Tribune had even printed “Dewey Defeats Truman” on its front page, but Truman won. In his State of the Union Address Truman unveiled his own program of social and economic reforms for America intended to continue the country’s transition into a peacetime economy. He called his domestic program the “Fair Deal.” The program was not well received by conservatives who favored reducing the role of government; however, the Fair Housing Act was passed, which allocated federal funds toward new public housing and urban renewal. The minimum wage was also increased, and the Fair Employment Practices Act (which outlaws racial and religious discrimination in hiring) was also passed. In 1952 Truman chose not to run for reelection and actually campaigned on behalf of Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson. Truman retired and for the next twenty years supported both local and national candidates.


“Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima . . . The force from which the sun draws is powers has been loosed against those who brought the war in the Far East.” (August 6, 1945)

“The menace of communism lies primarily in those areas of American life where the promise of democracy remains unfulfilled.”

Truman proposed his program of social and economic reform in his State of the Union Address to Congress, asserting that “Every segment of our population, and every individual, has a right to expect from his government a fair deal.” (January 5, 1949)

“It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job. It’s a depression when you lose yours.”

At This Time

1945: V-E Day (May 7 and 8): Germany surrenders and World War II ends in Europe • Japan refuses to surrender and the U.S. drops atomic bombs on Japan August 6 and 9 • Japan surrenders August 14, and World War II ends • 35 million people are declared dead at the close of the war, plus an additional 10 million who died in Nazi concentration camps • The United Nations charter is signed • George Orwell writes Animal Farm • Frank Lloyd Wright designs the Guggenheim Museum in New York • 1946: The UN General Assembly holds its first session in London • Winston Churchill delivers his “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri • Benjamin Spock, M.D. publishes Baby and Child Care • China’s population is 455 million, India’s population is 311 million, the U.S.S.R.’s population is 194 million, the U.S. population is 140 million, Japan’s population is 73 million, and Britain’s population is 46 million • 1947: Truman creates the Federal Employee Loyalty Program • Truman addresses the NAACP, the first President to do so • The National Security Act is enacted • Jackie Robinson plays his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers and integrates Major League Baseball • Tennessee Williams publishes A Streetcar Named Desire, and it wins the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1948 • The Dead Sea Scrolls, which date from about 22 B.C, are discovered in Wadi Qumran • A U.S. airplane first flies at supersonic speeds • Bell Laboratories scientists invent the transistor • 1948: Truman sends a message to Congress asking for legislation to secure the civil rights of minorities • The same day, the President signs Executive Order 9981, which desegregates the Armed Forces • The U.S. recognizes the state of Israel • The Soviet Union blockades Berlin, hoping to drive Allied troops out of the city • Norman Mailer writes The Naked and the Dead • Jackson Pollock paints Composition No. 1 • The songs “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” and “Buttons and Bows” are popular • 1949 Twelve nations from Europe and North America sign the North Atlantic Treaty, which establishes the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as an alliance dedicated to collective security against armed attacks • The Soviet blockage of Berlin ends • West and East Germany are established • The Soviet Union explodes an atomic bomb • Truman signs the Housing Act • Mao Zedong announces the establishment of the People’s Republic of China • Congress raises the minimum wage from 40 cents to 75 cents an hour • Arthur Miller publishes Death of a Salesman • Chagall paints Red Sun • Paul Hindemith composes Concerto for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Harp, and Orchestra • The U.S. launches a guided missile 250 miles • 1950: Truman announces that the U.S. will develop a hydrogen bomb • In February Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy charges that the State Department employs 205 known Communists • Mao and Stalin sign the Sino-Soviet Alliance • North Korea invades South Korea • In June Truman announces that he has ordered American ground forces stationed in Japan to Korea • General Douglas MacArthur commands the U.S. (and United Nations) troops • Truman signs the Social Security Amendments, expanding coverage and increasing benefits • Congress passes the Internal Security Act over Truman’s veto • Truman signs the Revenue Act of 1950, increasing corporation and income taxes • In November China launches a massive counteroffensive against American advances in North Korea • In December Truman proclaims a state of national emergency and imposes wage and price controls • The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of married women who work outside the home has increased by 90 percent over the previous ten years • Ray Bradbury writes The Martian Chronicles • Over 8.6 million books are available at the Library of Congress • Margaret Mead publishes Social Anthropology • Antihistamines become a popular remedy for colds and allergies • The world population totals over 2.3 billion • 1951: The 22nd Amendment is ratified, specifying that a president cannot serve more than two terms • Truman relieves General Douglas MacArthur from his command of both U.S. and U.N. forces in Korea • Truman signs the Mutual Security Act, authorizing more than $7 billion for foreign economic, military, and technical aid • Carl Sandburg’s Complete Poems wins the Pulitzer Prize • The first color television program is broadcast, but no color sets are available for sale • 1952: Truman signs an Executive Order directing the Secretary of Commerce to seize steel mills in order to prevent a strike by steel workers, but the Supreme Court later declares the seizure unconstitutional • In November the U.S. detonates the first hydrogen bomb • 1953: The Korean War ends

Did You Know?

Truman’s middle initial “S” did not stand for a name; it is his complete middle name. His parents chose the “S” to honor both his paternal grandfather (Anderson Shippe Truman), as well as his maternal grandfather (Solomon Young).

Truman kept two noteworthy quotations on his White House desk. One was a note from Mark Twain: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” The other was the infamous sign: “The Buck Stops Here.”

Truman did not support the Civil Rights Movement until he became president. As president, however, Truman recognized the discrimination being suffered by African-Americans. He ordered that America’s armed forces be integrated. He also appointed the first federal civil rights committee responsible for investigating discrimination based on race or religion. In 1947 Truman became the first president to ever speak to the NAACP, proclaiming from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “Every man should have the right to a decent home, the right to an education, the right to adequate medical care, the right to a worthwhile job, the right to an equal share in the making of public decisions through the ballot, and the right to a fair trial in a fair court.”

Learn More

  • TrumanLibrary.org
    Documents, photographs, virtual exhibits, audio files, oral histories, digital archives, and kids page hosted by the Truman Presidential Library & Museum.
  • MillerCenter.org/president/truman
    In-depth essays created by the University of Virginia on Truman’s life and administration.

Field Trips for Harry S Truman

Harry S Truman Little White House Museum
Key West, Florida

President Truman frequently vacationed at this house where there are now two permanent exhibits featuring the “Harry Truman Story” and “The Florida Keys: Where Presidents Vacation.”

Harry S Truman National Historic Site
Independence, Missouri

This historic site is made up of a number of homes of President Truman and his family. The focal point is the Victorian home at 219 North Delaware Street which was his home from his marriage in 1919 until his death, and was known as the “Summer White House” during his presidency. Walking tours of the neighborhood are available and other homes significant to the president are featured.

Harry S Truman Library & Museum
Independence, Missouri

Truman’s presidential library houses over 15-million pages of documents, papers and books. The extensive audiovisual collection includes photos, film, and audio recordings. The president and his wife, Bess, are buried in the museum’s courtyard.

Harry S Truman Birthplace State Historic Site
Lamar, Missouri

The birthplace and early childhood home of President Truman is furnished in the style of a typical home of the late nineteenth century.

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