Location: Independence, Missouri
Webpage: Presidential Library
General Description: The main part of the Presidential Museum highlights the Presidential years of Harry S Truman through in depth exploration of the many domestic and international issues of the time. This begins with an introductory film about his years as President that provides an excellent overview of the rest of the museum. Upon exiting the film you are confronted with a large photomural of the swearing in of Harry S Truman as the 33rd President of the United States. Then begins a series of newspapers presenting the momentous events in his first 4 months that saw the surrender of Germany, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, the surrender of Japan, and the forming of the United Nations. Next is an in-depth look at the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Japan followed by the surrender of Japan. After the war the nation was faced with a large influx of returning soldiers into the workforce and shortages of food and housing as an aftermath of the extended war based economy. Truman was faced with multiple strikes and civil unrest until the nation could retool back to a peace time economy. Beginning in 1947, Truman led the nation out of the slump into an age of unprecedented prosperity which gives a sharp contrast to the previous two years. Europe, in the meantime, was struggling to recover from the devastation of the war with food shortages and riots along with increasing hostility from the Soviet Union which saw the rise of the Communist Party in Western Europe. The museum includes an in-depth look at the origins of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. A major part of this effort was the Marshall Plan to provide massive economic assistance to rebuild Europe. A main focus of this area is the time-line on the Berlin airlift which brought in needed supplies to Berlin through the Soviet Union blockade of the city. Other items of interest include the Truman Doctrine and the formation of NATO. Another major controversy came to a head in the spring of 1948, when Truman recognized of Israel. At this point the museum turns to the challenges Truman faced in his bid for election in his own right. Few experts gave him any chance. The Republican led Congress refused nearly all of his domestic reforms and it was not yet clear whether his foreign policy initiatives would be successful. His support of Civil Rights for African Americans inflamed the Southern Democrats thus splitting the party and creating the States’ Right Party. Upset with his Soviet Policy, former Vice-President Henry Wallace formed the Progressive Party thus leaving the Democratic Party in pieces. Along with a Republican led Congress, it was commonly believed that Dewey was a sure thing. However, Truman managed to hold together enough of the center of the party to narrowly win the 1948 election. Exhibits in the museum then turn to the challenges of Truman’s first elected term as President. Most notable was the emergence of the Soviet Union entrance into the nuclear club. Many felt that the Soviet Union must have stole the technology through highly placed spies, which turned out not to be true. However, the fear of a nuclear attack from Russia and its spy network sparked the Congressional investigations led by Senator McCarthy. Along with the fall of China to Mao Tse-Tung and events on the Korean peninsula led to the Korean Conflict. On the domestic side, the economy continued to boom and internationally the Marshall Plan was becoming a success in Europe. As Truman prepared to leave office in 1952, the United States was at its peak in economic and military power, yet a sense of vulnerability continued to plague the country. This period of striking contrast is displayed in the museum through a wall of Time magazine covers from that period. During his last year in office, Truman’s popularity plummeted as many believed him ineffective over frustrations with the Korean Conflict, his failures of passing any of his domestic policies through Congress, and scandals involving some of his staff. This final exhibit is devoted to Truman’s Living Legacy over the years. Other features of the museum are exhibits about his years before becoming President in the basement of the museum, the graves of Harry S and Mary Margaret (Bess) Truman, and his office at the Museum which he used daily after returning to Independence.
1) Of all the Presidential Libraries we have visited from Missouri to the east coast, the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum is our favorite. It does an excellent job of laying out the challenges faced by Truman ending the Second World War, standing up to the Soviet Union at the start of the Cold War, and defending against Communist aggression in Asia during the Korean Conflict. On the domestic side he was not as successful as it was a continual battle with the Republican led Congress. However, on the international stage he had many accomplishments including the recognition of Israel, the rebuilding of Europe with the Marshall Plan, the containment of the Soviet Union through the Truman Doctrine and formation of NATO, the beginning of the United Nations, and many others. The museum is designed to provide a quick chronological overview of each major decision with a lot of in-depth material for anyone interested in finding out more. It is well organized and thoughtfully presented. I especially liked the two interactive videos that asked for audience participation in making some of the key decisions Truman faced during his years in office.
2) The exhibits in the basement are also well worth the time as each period of his life from growing up in Independence, working on the Grandview Farm, serving in the military during World War I, courtship and marriage to Bess Wallace, and his political postings as Jackson County Judge and US Senator from Missouri. Once again he exhibits are expertly done and very informative.
3) The graves of both Harry and Bess are on the grounds of the library in a nice peaceful garden in the center of the complex.
4) Just off the garden is a large glass partition looking into the office used every day by Harry S Truman while the library was being built until the end of his life. There are many momentos on the wall and desk that are of interest.