Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884 in Lamar, Missouri, though hew grew up in nearby Independence . His parents gave him the middle initial S. to honor Harry’s two grandfathers, though it stands for nothing in particular. As a child, Harry enjoyed playing the piano and reading. In 1901, he graduated from Independence High School . After high school, he worked on the Santa Fe Railroad. Although he never earned a college degree, he became a successful Missouri farmer and served as a Captain in World War I. In 1919, he married Bess Wallace, seven years after she rejected his first request. The couple would have a single child named Mary Margaret. In 1919, Harry and a wartime friend opened a haberdashery (a store that sells sewing supplies such as buttons) in Kansas City . The business succeeded for a couple of years but went bankrupt during the recession of 1921.
Truman’s political career began in 1922 when he was elected as judge of the County Court of the eastern district of Jackson County, Missouri. During this time, Truman was instrumental in the development of Kansas City, Missouri and helped initiate programs that built roads, buildings, and monuments in the city. In 1934, he was elected Senator from Missouri. He was re-elected in 1940. During his second term as Senator, Truman established the “Truman Committee” which exposed military spending fraud during World War II. Truman’s committee is thought to have saved the United States Military over 15 billion dollars and launched his political career into the national limelight.
In 1944, Truman was selected as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice-presidential running-mate during the election of 1944, though Truman reluctantly accepted only after listening to a fake phone call orchestrated by members of the Republican National Committee, in which Roosevelt claimed that his refusal to accept the vice-presidency would disrupt the unity of the party. Roosevelt won the election for a record fourth time, but died in 1945 after suffering a stroke. Truman was sworn in as President.
Truman’s presidency began in the latter stages of World War II. In 1945, after being briefed on the top secret Manhattan Project (the testing of Nuclear Weapons), Truman authorized the use of nuclear Weapons against Japan, after Japan refused to surrender in the Potsdam Declaration. American military forces dropped two nuclear bombs on August 6, 1945 over the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima , marking the first and only time nuclear weapons had ever been used in warfare. Tens of thousands of Japanese were killed instantly and Japan surrendered eight days later.
After the war, Truman led the nation’s transition back to a peacetime economy, despite innumerable domestic challenges including severe inflation, labor unrest, and shortages of houses and consumer products. Furthermore, issues abroad with the Communist Soviet Union suggested their thirst for global domination. In an attempt to quell the spread of Communism, Truman won support for the Marshall Plan, which aimed to help re-build postwar Europe. Truman also signed the National Security Act of 1947 which eventually resulted in the Department of Defense and the creation of the U.S. Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In 1948, Truman took measures to recognize the state of Israel in the former Palestine, giving the Jewish people displaced during the European Holocaust their own state. Truman also authorized the Berlin Airlift, a campaign that delivered food, coal, and other supplies to areas of West Berlin, Germany that had been blockaded by the Russians. The airlift was seen as a great success in American foreign policy.
Later in 1948, after the Democratic Party seemed ready to split, and after Truman signed a controversial order integrating the U.S. Armed Forces, he was re-elected president in an improbable victory, prompted at least in part, by his incredible campaign effort which covered nearly 22,000 miles in traveling. In 1949, Truman was instrumental in the establishment of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which established alliances with Canada and much of western and northern Europe in opposition to the growing Communist threat of the Soviet Union . Nevertheless, Truman’s popularity began to wane as the Soviet Nuclear program rapidly developed amidst allegations that Truman’s administration was harboring Soviet spies (the resulting paranoia concerning Communists in the U.S. Government and Russian spies would be forever referred to as McCarthyism). In 1950, Communist North Korea invaded South Korea prompting the Korean War. Truman’s handling of the war was heavily criticized, particularly his decision to fire the popular World War II hero Douglas MacArthur from his command in Japan and Korea. Although the two-year war cost over 30,000 American lives, Truman succeeded in preventing the war from becoming a major international struggle between surrounding Communist nations such as China and the Soviet Union. Truman declined to run for re-election in 1952.
After his presidency, Truman retired to Independence where he wrote his Memoirs and lived a humble existence. On December 26, 1972, Truman died of complications from Pneumonia. Today, he is honored with the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri, and the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, which includes the Truman family farm in Independence . The University of Missouri mascot is known as the Truman Tiger.