Truman








Harry S. Truman.

”Early Life Harry S. Truman, the oldest of three children born to Martha Ellen Young Truman
and John Anderson Truman, was born in his family’s small frame house in Lamar, Missouri, in
1884. Truman had no middle name; his parents apparently gave him the middle initial S.
because two family relatives names started with that letter.
When Truman was six years old, his family moved to Independence, Missouri, where he
attended the Presbyterian Church Sunday school. There he met five-year-old Elizabeth
Virginia (“Bess”) Wallace, with whom he was later to fall in love. Truman did not begin regular
school until he was eight, and by then he was wearing thick glasses to correct extreme
nearsightedness. His poor eyesight did not interfere with his two interests, music and reading.
He got up each day at 5 AM to practice the piano, and until he was 15, he went to the local
music teacher twice a week. He read four or five histories or biographies a week and acquired
an exhaustive knowledge of great military battles and of the lives of the world’s greatest
leaders.
Early Career
In 1901, when Truman graduated from high school, his future was uncertain. College had been
ruled out by his family’s financial situation, and appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at
West Point was eliminated by his poor eyesight. He began work as a timekeeper for the Santa
Fe Railroad at $35 per month, and in his spare time he read histories and encyclopedias. He
later moved to Kansas City, where he worked as a mail clerk for the Kansas City Star, then as
a clerk for the National Bank of Commerce, and finally as a bookkeeper for the Union National
Bank. In 1906 he was called home to help his parents run the large farm of Mrs. Truman’s
widowed mother in Grandview, Missouri.
For the next ten years, Truman was a successful farmer. He joined Mike Pendergast’s Kansas
City Tenth Ward Democratic Club, the local Democratic Party organization, and on his father’s
death in 1914 he succeeded him as road overseer. An argument soon ended the job, but
Truman became the Grandview postmaster. In 1915 he invested in lead mines in Missouri, lost
his money, and then turned to the oil fields of Oklahoma. Two years later, just before the
United States entered World War I, he sold his share in the oil business and enlisted in the
U.S. Army. He trained at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, but returned to Missouri to help recruit others. He
was elected first lieutenant by the men of Missouri’s Second Field Artillery.
World War I
World War I began in 1914 as a local European war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia.
Though U.S. President Woodrow Wilson tried to remain neutral, the United States was drawn
into the war in April 1917.
Truman sailed for France on March 30, 1918, and as a recently promoted captain was given
command of Battery D, a rowdy and unmanageable group known as the Dizzy D. Truman
succeeded in taming his unit, and the Dizzy D distinguished itself in the battles of Saint-Mihiel
and Argonne. In April 1919 Truman, then a major, returned home, and on June 28 he married
Bess Wallace.
The following November, Truman and Eddie Jacobson opened a men’s clothing store in
Kansas City. With the Dizzy D veterans as customers the store did a booming business, but in
1920, farm prices fell sharply and the business failed. In the winter of 1922 the store finally
closed, but Truman refused to declare bankruptcy and eventually repaid his debts.
Entrance Into Politics
Truman turned to the Pendergasts for help. Jim Pendergast, Mike’s son, persuaded his father
to give Truman permission to enter a four-way Democratic primary for an eastern Jackson
County judgeship, which was actually a job to supervise county roads and buildings. Mike
refused to support Truman. In addition, one of the other candidates was supported by the Ku
Klux Klan. Truman was advised to join the Klan, but he objected to its discriminatory policies
against blacks, Jews, and Roman Catholics. Nonetheless, by campaigning on his war record
and Missouri background, Truman won the primary and in the general election. In January
1923 he was sworn into his first public office. A year later the Trumans’ only child, Mary
Margaret, was born.
United States Senator
After a long, hard battle, Truman soundly defeated his Republican opponent. On January 3,
1935, Truman was sworn in as the junior senator from Missouri.
Truman’s common sense and knowledge of government and history impressed two of the
Senate’s most influential