• Harry Truman was born in 1884 in Missouri. After graduating high school he worked as a timekeeper for a railroad construction contractor, then as a clerk in two Kansas City banks before returning home to help his father run the family farm for more than 10 years.
• When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Truman helped organize the 2nd Regiment of Missouri Field Artillery of the Missouri National Guard, which was quickly called into federal service in France. Truman was promoted to captain and given command of the regiment’s Battery D.
• Truman joined the reserves after the war, rising to the rank of colonel.
• From 1919 to 1922 he ran a men’s clothing store in Kansas City with a friend. The store failed in the postwar recession. Truman narrowly avoided bankruptcy.
• Truman was elected in 1922 to be one of three judges of the Jackson County Court.
• In 1934, Truman was elected to the United States Senate. He had significant roles in the passage of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 and the Transportation Act of 1940. After being re-elected in 1940, Truman gained national prominence as chairman of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which came to be called the Truman Committee.
• In July 1944, Truman was nominated to run for vice president with Franklin Roosevelt. On Jan. 20, 1945, he took the vice-presidential oath, and after Roosevelt’s unexpected death only 82 days later, he was sworn in as president.
How he defined the office
• Truman later called his first year as president a “year of decisions.” He oversaw during his first two months in office the ending of the war in Europe. He approved the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945. This first year of Truman’s presidency also saw the founding of the United Nations and the development of an increasingly strained and confrontational relationship with the Soviet Union.
Successes and failures
• Central to almost everything Truman undertook in his foreign policy was the desire to prevent the expansion of the influence of the Soviet Union. The Truman Doctrine was an enunciation of American willingness to provide military aid to countries resisting communist insurgencies; the Marshall Plan sought to revive the economies of the nations of Europe in the hope that communism would not thrive in the midst of prosperity; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization built a military barrier confronting the Soviet-dominated part of Europe.
• The one time during his presidency when a communist nation invaded a non-communist one — when North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950 — Truman responded by waging undeclared war.
• Truman was successful in achieving a healthy peacetime economy, but only a few of his social program proposals became law.
• He issued executive orders desegregating the armed forces and forbidding racial discrimination in federal employment. He also established a Committee on Civil Rights and encouraged the Justice Department to argue before the Supreme Court on behalf of plaintiffs fighting against segregation.
• “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”