1884.05.08 - 1972.12.26

Democrat, 33rd president of the United States of America, from 1945 to 1953. Authorized the first uses of the atomic bomb, which brought World War II to a rapid conclusion.

There was a family disagreement over whether his middle name was Shippe or Solomon (names of two grandfathers), so he only used his middle initial.

After the untimely death of FDR, Truman reluctantly took over the role of the president. From the beginning many people questioned Truman's abilities. With the controversy of the Atomic Bomb and the victory in World War II, people still felt he wasn't fit for the job (even after his re-election). One famous picture in American History shows Truman holding up a newspaper after his re-election saying "Dewey Defeats Truman."


Washington, D.C.


August 6, 1945


Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British "Grand Slam" which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.

It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.

Before 1939, it was the accepted belief of scientists that it was theoretically possible to release atomic energy. But no one knew any practical method of doing it. By 1942, however, we knew that the Germans were working feverishly to find a way to add atomic energy to the other engines of war with which they hoped to enslave the world. But they failed. We may be grateful to Providence that the Germans got the V-1's and the V-2's late and in limited quantities and even more grateful that they did not get the atomic bomb at all.

The battle of the laboratories held fateful risks for us as well as the battles of the air, land, and sea, and we have now won the battle of the laboratories as we have won the other battles.

Beginning in 1940, before Pearl Harbor, scientific knowledge useful in war was pooled between the United States and Great Britain, and many priceless helps to our victories have come from that arrangement. Under that general policy the research on the atomic bomb was begun. With American and British scientists working together we entered the race of discovery against the Germans.

The United States had available the large number of scientists of distinction in the many needed areas of knowledge. It had the tremendous industrial and financial resources necessary for the project and they could be devoted to it without undue impairment of other vital war work. In the United States the laboratory work and the production plants, on which a substantial start had already been made, would be out of reach of enemy bombing, while at that time Britain was exposed to constant air attack and was still threatened with the possibility of invasion. For these reasons Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt agreed that it was wise to carry on the project here. We now have two great plants and many lesser works devoted to the production of atomic power. Employment during peak construction numbered 125,000 and over 65,000 individuals are even now engaged in operating the plants. Many have worked there for two and a half years. Few know what they have been producing. They see great quantities of material going in and they see nothing coming out of those plants, for the physical size of the explosive charge is exceedingly small. We have spent two billion dollars on the greatest scientific gamble in history-- and won.

But the greatest marvel is not the size of the enterprise, its secrecy, nor its cost, but the achievement of scientific brains in putting together infinitely complex pieces of knowledge held by many men in different fields of science into a workable plan. And hardly less marvelous has been the capacity of industry to design, and of labor to operate, the machines and methods to do things never done before so that the brain child of many minds came forth in physical shape and performed as it was supposed to do. Both science and industry worked under the direction of the United States Army, which achieved a unique success in managing so diverse a problem in the advancement of knowledge in an amazingly short time. It is doubtful if such another combination could be got together in the world. What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history. It was done under high pressure and without failure.

We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth. Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.

The Secretary of War, who has kept in personal touch with all phases of the project, will immediately make public a statement giving further details.

His statement will give facts concerning the sites at Oak Ridge near Knoxville, Tennessee, and at Richland near Pasco, Washington, and an installation near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Although the workers at the sites have been making materials to be used in producing the greatest destructive force in history they have not themselves been in danger beyond that of many other occupations, for the utmost care has been taken of their safety.

The fact that we can release atomic energy ushers in a new era in man's understanding of nature's forces. Atomic energy may in the future supplement the power that now comes from coal, oil, and falling water, but at present it cannot be produced on a basis to compete with them commercially. Before that comes there must be a long period of intensive research.

It has never been the habit of the scientists of this country or the policy of this Government to withhold from the world scientific knowledge. Normally, therefore, everything about the work with atomic energy would be made public.

But under present circumstances it is not intended to divulge the technical processes of production or all the military applications, pending further examination of possible methods of protecting us and the rest of the world from the danger of sudden destruction.

I shall recommend that the Congress of the United States consider promptly the establishment of an appropriate commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States. I shall give further consideration and make further recommendations to the Congress as to how atomic power can become a powerful and forceful influence towards the maintenance of world peace.

A simple man from Missouri who looked like an accountant or a librarian. Compared to his predecessor, Roosevelt, he was a small, shy man. His intelligence was impressive, however and his ability to speak clearly, with resolve led to the "battle call"- Give 'em Hell, Harry!

His famous response, "I just tell them the truth and they think it's hell."

Harry Truman was born in his family's small frame house in Lamar, Missouri in 1884. Truman had no middle name so his parents apparently gave him the middle initial S. to appease two family relatives whose names started with that letter. When Truman was six years old, his family moved to Independence, Missouri. His two biggest interests were reading and playing the piano. 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. After he served in World War I he settled down in Kansas.

Truman's political career began as a small machine politician in Kansas. He joined the Pendergast political machine, which at that time was running the political scene in his area. He soon rose though the ranks, however his association with the Pendergast's would eventually be brought back up and would be used to attempt to smear him. He was elected to various small political offices and performed his job with his characteristic efficiency. Soon he was asked to run for the U. S. Senate by the Pendergast machine. Once elected to the Senate, he befriended two of the more influential senators and together they formed various commissions. The most notable of the committees was known as the Truman Committee because Truman formed it. The committee investigated defense contractors and how the money was spent. After a very successful period in the Senate, Truman was nominated as a moderate as Roosevelt's vice president. He saw very little of the president during his time in office. Roosevelt left for the Yalta conference and then traveled to Warm Springs and there he died. Truman assumed office, however he spent the next several weeks figuring out what went on at the Yalta conference and other parts of the Roosevelt administration. Soon he learned of the atomic bomb and authorized its use on Japan after they refused to surrender.

The post war problems of his presidency were probably the toughest. The economy was threatening a downturn, and restoring itself to depression era lows. However even with the limited support from the Republican congress, Truman was able to contain inflation and restore the economy to a booming period. The next term for Truman was highlighted by the Cold War and the McCarthy trials. Even though Truman was under great stress during this time, he never resorted to the mudslinging that his opponents used. After Truman's two terms in office, he retired to his house in Kansas.

Truman was also a fairly good piano player, mostly known for playing raucous barrelhouse type music. With enough prodding he would entertain guests at state dinners. After one particularly boisterous performance he commented to the crowd:

“My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference.”

The use of the period after the "S" in Harry S. Truman

In 1962, President Harry S. Truman informed some people in the press that his middle initial "S" should not have a period after it because the "S" didn't really stand for anything. The middle name of S was chosen by his parents so they didn't have to offend either of his grandfathers, who both had names beginning with the letter S.

After the press reported this information it set off a controversy on how editors and writers should handle the spelling of his name. Some people still insist that his name should be spelled Harry S Truman (without the period).

There is much evidence to indicate that President Truman used the period after the "S" both before and after his 1962 remark. The Truman Presidential Museum and Library has many archived documents that clearly show his signature punctuated with the period. Official government publications from the U.S. Government Printing Office now all use the period. There exists an aircraft carrier called the USS Harry S. Truman and a library called Harry S. Truman Library and numerous other state, local, and federal buildings all using the period. Since these versions with the period in them are now the official names for these objects an editor/writer choosing to use the form without the period would look silly and contradictory when he mentioned the President's name alongside one of these buildings or other objects.

By nearly universal consensus, the accepted policy is to include the period after the "S". The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual says that the period should be used. Most other popular writing style manuals have followed their lead by giving the same advice for the sake of consistency.

Some scholars now believe that President Truman was only trying to be humorous when he suggested that his middle initial should stand bare. He may have briefly toyed with the idea of trying to get people to change it, but he still continued using the period throughout his life. Regardless of how President Truman felt about the issue it doesn't really matter. The writers have agreed that the period looks better and seems more correct -- so it shall be.

2002.11.16@14:24 Shanoyu says As an aspiring historian, I feel it necessary to point out that I have never read a Government or History textbook which used the period when mentioning Harry S Truman's name. This is often a stem in academic bowl questions as well.

Update 11/16/02: There are also a few federal, state, and local buildings that use the "S" without the period. The most notable example is the newly named Harry S Truman Federal Building that houses the State Department. Also we have the Harry S Truman Birthplace State Historic Site and the Harry S Truman National Historic Site.

Despite this I still believe that the accepted practice will always be to use the period. Congress named this building out of ignorance without regard to the practice that was has been accepted by every U.S. government agency. The local politicians of Missouri and Independence have a fondness for the "cuteness" of this silly argument and love to perpetuate it for publicities sake, neglecting the fact Harry S. Truman himself was known to use the period. Since Congress itself gets to name these things the Missouri politicians are able to influence the decision process as most members of Congress are not historians nor archivists like the people at the Harry S. Truman Library who have scoured Truman's own words for evidence.

Particularly telling is the Historical Marker in front of the Truman House (part of the Harry S Truman National Historic Site). The sign says:

Built about 1867 by George Porterfield
Gates, a  mill owner.  President Harry 
S. Truman  and  his wife  Bess Wallace 
Truman,  granddaughter of  Gates, made
this  their  home  from  the  time  of
their  marriage  in 1919.  "The Summer 
White  House"   from  1945  to   1953.

Update 11/26/02: I received back a response from the National Park Service which has a policy of not using the period after the "S".

Dear Mr. Xxxxxxx,

We thank you for your inquiry about whether or not Mr. Truman used a period. It is true that the historical marker in the front yard of the Truman Home is contradictory to our policy of not using the period behind the S in Truman's name. This marker was placed in the yard in 1976 by the City of Independence during Mrs. Truman's lifetime. The National Park Service accepted the sign as part of the donation of the property after Mrs. Truman's death in 1982 and it is now considered part of the historic landscape.

The use of a period or not does seem to be a controversial and a long standing debate. On August 6, 1962, Truman wrote Dr. Jacob Fabrikant of the Institute of Cancer Research - Royal Cancer Hospital in Sutton, Surrey, England. The text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Dr. Fabrikant:

I read your letter of July 25th with a lot of interest. Each of my grandfathers had a name beginning with the letter "S" and my mother and father couldn't agree on which name to give me, along with my first name which they had both agreed on, so they just picked the first letter of the names of each of my grandfathers and gave to me as a middle name.

I never use anything but the "S", sometimes with a period when I am in a hurry and not thinking about it, but it is a name and not an initial and does not need punctuation after it.

Sincerely yours,
Harry S. Truman (Signature stamp included a period)

On August 19, 1970, Truman responded to a student's inquiry in a similar manner when he wrote:

Dear Jim:

The "S" in my name stands for the first letter of the first name of each of my grandfathers. In order to be strictly impartial in naming me for one or the other, I was given the letter "S" as a middle name. It can be used with or without a period.

I appreciate your very kind comments and send you best wishes.

Sincerely yours,
Harry S Truman

Finally on October 13, 1972, Rose Conway, Truman's secretary, responded to a similar inquiry from Rosemary Courtney of Utica, NY with the following:

Dear Miss Courtney:

In reply to your recent letter, the "S" in Mr. Truman's name stands for the first letter of the first name of each of his grandfathers. In order to be strictly impartial in naming him for one or the other, he was given the letter "S" as a middle name. It can be used with or without a period after it.

Sincerely yours,

Rose A. Conway
Secretary to Mr. Truman

This topic, like much of history, is really left up to the interpretation that you choose to accept. This is a perfect example of the contradictions that historians must face during their search through historical record trying to make sense of what little is left available to them versus what has been lost with the individual when they passed.

Michael Hosking
Museum Technician
Harry S Truman NHS

Perhaps the best biography of this man is David McCullough's Truman. Not only does the book provide intimate details about his political career, but also his life prior.

Truman, or Harry as his friends called him, served in World War I as a captain in the Army and was in charge of Battery D a part of the 129th Artillery. His battery only had 3 wounded men during the entire time of service. Most of the service of his troops, or his boys as he often refered to them, was at the Meuse-Argonne offensive.

After the war, Harry tried his look in business with some of this boys from Battery D. He became a haberdasher and his store went bankrupt. Truman started an oil company that went under as well. It was then that he turned to politcs and was first elected to the position of road commissioner were he helped Jackson County, MO roads become some of the best in the nation.

After serving a term as commissioner, Harry was elected to Judge and became known throughout the area as "Judge Truman." As his political career grew, he toured the country in an automobile trying to find the perfect design for the Independence courtroom, which he helped design.

There are many facts about this President history books do not tell us.

  1. He walked 120 paces a minute everywhere he went.

  2. When the White House was being restored and rebuilt, Harry worked at the Blair House and would walk across the street to the West Wing every day.

  3. There was an assassination attempt on his life while at the Blair house by Puerto Rican nationlists

  4. Several words came into popular use while he was President: do-nothing, H-bomb, Iron Curtain, containment, whistle-stop

There is so much more to understand about this President. Pick up Truman for a great understanding of this person and his Presidency.

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