Ten Facts About Harry Truman

Truman Smiles Greeting Cleveland

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Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri. He took over the presidency upon Franklin D. Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945. He was then elected in his own right in 1948. Following are ten key facts that are important to understanding the life and presidency of the 33rd president of the United States.​

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Grew Up on a Farm in Missouri

Harry Truman Farm

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Truman's family settled on a farm in Independence, Missouri. His father was very active in the Democratic Party. When Truman graduated from high school, he worked on his family's farm for ten years before going to law school in Kansas City.

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Married His Childhood Friend: Elizabeth Virginia Wallace

President Truman and wife

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Elizabeth "Bess" Virginia Wallace was a childhood friend of Truman's She attended a finishing school in Kansas City before returning to Independence. They did not marry until after World War I when he was thirty-five and she was thirty-four. Bess did not enjoy her role as First Lady and spent as little time in Washington as she could get away with.

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Fought in World War I

President Truman in His National Guard Uniform

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Truman had been part of the Missouri National Guard and was called up to fight in World War I. He served for two years and was commissioned a commander of the field artillery. By the war's end, he was made a colonel.

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From Failed Clothing Store Owner to a Senator

Senator Truman
Senator Truman, Washington, D.C., 1938.

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Truman never did get a law degree but instead decided to open a men's clothing store which was not a success. He moved into politics through administrative positions. He became the US Senator from Missouri in 1935. He led a committee called the Truman Committee whose job was to look into military wastefulness.

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Succeeded to the Presidency Upon FDR's Death

President Harry S. Truman taking the oath of office, 12 April 1945

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Truman had been selected to be Franklin D. Roosevelt's running mate in 1945. When FDR died on April 12, 1945, Truman was shocked to find out he was the new president. He had to step in and lead the country through the final months of World War II.

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Hiroshima and Nagasaki


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Truman learned after taking office about the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. Even though the war in Europe had ended, America was still at war with Japan who would not agree to an unconditional surrender. A military invasion of Japan would have cost many thousands of lives. Truman used this fact along with a desire to show the Soviet Union the might of the US military to justify his using the bombs on Japan. Two sites were chosen and on August 6, 1945, a bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Three days later one fell on Nagasaki. Over 200,000 Japanese were killed. Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945.

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Aftermath of World War II

President Harry Truman makes his formal welcoming speech to the members of the UN General Assembly at its opening session in New York, New York, October 23, 1946.
President Truman makes his welcoming speech to the UN General Assembly at its opening session in New York, October 23, 1946.

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After World War II, many leftover issues remained and America took a lead in resolving them. The US became one of the first countries to recognize the new state of Israel in Palestine. Truman helped rebuild Europe with the Marshall Plan while setting up bases throughout the continent. Further, American forces occupied Japan until 1952. Finally, Truman supported the creation of the United Nations at the end of the war.

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Dewey Beats Truman

Dewey Beats Truman

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Truman was fiercely opposed by Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election. The election was so close that the Chicago Tribune erroneously printed on election night the famous headline, "Dewey Beats Truman." He won with only 49 percent of the popular vote.

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Cold War at Home and Korean War Abroad

President Truman in the Oval Office, receiving a doll from Dr. Helen Kim, a Korean educator

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The end of World War II began the era of the Cold War. Truman created the Truman Doctrine that stated that it was America's duty to "support free peoples who are resisting ... subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressures." From 1950 to 1953, the US fought in the Korean Conflict attempting to stop the communist forces from the North from invading the South. The Chinese were arming the North, but Truman did not want to start an all-out war against China. The Conflict was a stalemate until Eisenhower took office.

At home, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) set up hearings of individuals who had ties to communist parties. Senator Joseph McCarthy rose to fame over these activities.

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Attempted Assassination

Diagram view of the Blair House, scene of the attempt on President Truman's life
Diagram view of the Blair House, scene of the attempt on President Truman's life.

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On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationals, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola stormed the Blair House where the Trumans were staying while the White House was being renovated. Torresola and a policeman died in the ensuing gunfight. Collazo was arrested and sentenced to death. However, Truman commuted his sentence, and in 1979 Jimmy Carter freed him from prison.

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Kelly, Martin. "Ten Facts About Harry Truman." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-harry-truman-104697. Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). Ten Facts About Harry Truman. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-harry-truman-104697 Kelly, Martin. "Ten Facts About Harry Truman." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-harry-truman-104697 (accessed June 10, 2023).