Harry S Truman National Historic Site

Location: Independence, Missouri

Webpage: National Park

General Description: Harry S. Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri on May 8, 1884, however, they moved to a farm near Harrisonville, Missouri when Harry was just 10 months old and in 1887 to his grandparents 600 acre farm in Grandview.  When Harry was six, they moved to Independence so he could attend the Presbyterian Church School.  Truman was interested in music, reading, and history which was encouraged by his mother that had a big influence on his life.  After graduating from Independence High School in 1901, Harry enrolled in Spalding’s Commercial College where he studied bookkeeping, shorthand, and typing but left after only one year.  He worked a number of jobs before landing a position as a clerk at the National Bank of Commerce in Kansas City.  However, his father needed his help in running the farm in Grandview, so in 1906 he moved back to the family farm where he learned a number of valuable lessons working as a farm hand for long hours every day.  During this period he would travel to Independence to spend time staying with relatives across the street from Bess Wallace who he began to court.  She turned his marriage proposal down in 1911, which did not deter him.  He entered the army in 1917 to fight in World War I and earn a better income then a farmer to ask for her hand in marriage again.  He had already attained the rank of Corporal in the Missouri National Guard and was elected to be a second lieutenant when the unit was nationalized into the 129th Field Artillery.  In mid-1918, the unit was part of the American Expeditionary Force in France where he was promoted to captain commanding Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 35th Division.  He served with distinction and earned the respect of his men for his hard but fair discipline.  Battery D did not lose a single man under his command.  After his wartime service, he returned to Independence where he married Bess Wallace in 1919 and they had one child, Mary Margaret Truman.  Truman and Jacobson opened a haberdashery in Independence, but the business went bankrupt during the depression of 1921.  With the help of Kansas City Democratic machine led by Tom Pendergast, he was elected County Court Judge in 1922, which was an administrative position similar to county commissioners.  He lost his reelection in 1924, but regained the position in 1926 and again in 1930.  In 1934, Pendergast again backed him for the US Senate and was reelected in 1940 as part of the wave of pro-New Deal Democrats following the Great Depression.  In 1945, during President Franklin Roosevelt’s run for his fourth term, he was selected as a compromise Vice-President candidate over the current Vice President Henry Wallace who was viewed as begin to far left for many of Roosevelt’s supporters.  As they feared Franklin Roosevelt did not survive long in his fourth term and Harry S Truman became the 33rd President after only 82 days as Vice President.  He presided over the end of World War II which included the German surrender on May 8, 1945, the decision to drop the nuclear bombs on Japan on July 16 and the Japanese surrender on August 10.  Then began the long post-war process which included demobilization of the armed forces causing severe economic turmoil, consumer good shortages, and housing shortages.  On the international stage he faced the rebuilding of Europe under the Marshall Plan, the establishment of the United Nations, and tensions with Russia that led to the Cold War.  Highlights include the Berlin Airlift and the recognition of Israel in 1948.  The 1948 Presidential election is remembered as the come-from-behind election over the certain victory of Thomas Dewey.  In his second term, Truman oversaw the Korean War, the escalation of the Cold War through a strong NATO, and the Soviet spy scare led by Senator McCarthy.  In 1951, the 22nd Amendment limited the President to only two terms, however, Truman was only serving in his first elected term.  However, he refused any nomination for another term and returned to his home in Independence Missouri.  Their home in Independence was the family home of his wife, Bess, and they enjoyed the relatively humble surroundings.  Only the front parlor was decked out with expensive furniture and finery for receiving guests.  The rest of the home was kept modest which included a living room, study, kitchen and upstair bedrooms.  Truman continued his daily walks around town and enjoyed interacting with the city residents.  He also maintained an office at the nearby Presidential Library where he continued to correspond with world leaders.  Bess continued to live there when Harry died on December 5, 1972 until she died in 1982 when the house was bequeathed to the National Government.  Both Harry and Beth are buried at the Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence.

Brochure

Impression:

1) The Visitor Center for the Harry S Truman National Historic Site is actually in downtown Independence, a few blocks from the house.  With the small Visitor Center they have just a few exhibits and a video about the life of the 33rd President.  It is necessary to obtain tickets for a house tour so they can control the numbers, since the tickets were free.  From there it is a pleasant walk the few blocks to his house.

VisitorCenter

2) The Noland House is located across the street from the Truman’s house and is also part of the National Historic Site.  The Noland House was the home of cousin’s of Harry and was where he would stay when he traveled to Independence from the farm in Grandview to court Bess Wallace who lived across the street.  Within the house are numerous exhibits about Harry’s early life and courtship of Bess.

RolandHouse

3) While the Truman Home is a large two story house, it is not as large as you would expect for a former President.  It was the childhood home of Bess Wallace, who’s family was prominent in Independence at the time and their home reflected this.  Since the home was given to the National Park Service following the death of Bess in 1982, it includes all the original furnishings at the time of her death.  The kitchen, where they spent a lot of time, is an interesting mix of 1950’s and 1960s appliances and cookware.  Harry’s study is actually a very small room off of the living room that is crammed full of books and a large radio.  Only when you step into the parlor are you struck by the fact he was a former President as it is decked out with all kinds of expensive pieces.