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For more information, see Living history
Also see: The buck stops in Independence

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Turbulent times, bold decisions
The common-man president left a legacy of forward thinking, from road building to rebuilding nations

By Sally M. Snell
Published: Jan/Feb 2002

Truman at his desk /Harry S. Truman Presidential Library photos.
“It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures,” declared President Truman in an address to Congress asking for extensive financial and military aid for Greece and Turkey. The United States had begun thinking “strategically and globally, which really hadn’t been done before,” said Edeen Martin, public relations officer for the Truman Presidential Museum and Library in Independence, Mo. The Truman Doctrine, as it came to be known, was a guiding force in U.S. foreign policy for the next 40 years.

Harry S. Truman became the 33rd president of the United States following President Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945. German forces had not yet surrendered, and the war in the Pacific Theater seemed far from reaching its conclusion. It was then that he learned of the atomic bomb.

Though he led a nation through an amazing period in history, Truman’s Missouri farm roots were never far away. He once boasted to an Iowa audience that he could “sow a 160 acre wheat field without a skip place showing in it.”

Policies of Truman’s presidency were wide reaching. The Marshall Plan was an economic aid program to rebuild European industries in part as a countermeasure against Communism. “He realized that you can’t just vanquish a nation and leave it because if you do that it makes them susceptible to basically evil powers,” said Martin. When Soviet authorities closed off access to Western-controlled Berlin, the United States and Allied Forces organized an extensive airlift that delivered food and supplies to its 2 1/2 million residents for 11 months.

One of Truman’s most controversial acts was the recognition of the new State of Israel, which he was moved to acknowledge in part because of the atrocities that were committed against Jews during World War II.

“It was a moral decision,” said Martin.

Truman was a life-long advocate of highway and auto safety. He was a sales agent for AAA Missouri from 1925 to 1926 until he was elected as presiding judge of Jackson County court. According to the Truman Library, while in that position “in the late 1920s and early 1930s [he] oversaw the construction of one of the nation’s first and most successful metropolitan road systems, one that left everyone in the county within 2 1/2 miles of a concrete road.”

Sen. Truman proposed a law in Congress that would make motor vehicle license laws similar to our modern ones, requiring passing of an eye exam, knowledge of traffic laws, and demonstration of abilities behind the wheel. As president, his Highway Safety Conference resulted in a reduction in traffic fatalities.

Truman sites

In addition to the Truman Presidential Museum and Library, other sites in Missouri give visitors insight to the president’s life.

The Harry S. Truman Birthplace State Historic Site in Lamar, Mo., is open during daylight hours year-round. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday–Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Call (417) 682-2279 or visit

The Truman home in Independence was referred to as the “Summer White House” because President Truman and his family frequently stayed there during his administration.

Tours for this national historic site are Tuesday–Sunday Labor Day through Memorial Day, and open daily in the summer. The site is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Tickets must be purchased from the Visitors Center. Limit eight people per tour. The cost is $3 for adults, children under 16 free. Call (816) 254-9929.

Truman’s mother claimed it was working the farm that gave Harry his “common sense.” The Harry S. Truman National Historic Site–Farm Home in Grandview, Mo., is open dawn to dusk year-round. Guided tours of the Farm Home are available Friday–Sunday from May through August. Call (816) 254-2720 or visit online.

Far from Missouri in Key West, Fla., sits the Little White House, former naval station’s officer’s quarters that Truman frequently visited during his presidency. Tours are from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Call (305) 294-9911 or visit online.

Sally Snell is a contributor from Topeka, Kan.

For more information, see Living history and The buck stops in Independence

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