History of Harry s Truman Library and Museum

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Mo., wouldn’t exist today had it not been for the efforts of its namesake. Soon after his second term as president ended in 1952, Harry Truman decided to follow Franklin Roosevelt’s lead and build a library based on the papers and resources he had amassed as a U.S. president. But Truman’s personal commitment to his library is what separates his from other presidential libraries and gives the library its own historical significance.

“A Brief History of the Truman Library”

Truman had a simple goal in mind: “I want this to be a place where young people can come and learn what the office of the President is” (qtd. in McCullough, p. 966). Of course, creating the library was anything but simple.

Since the government donated nothing to help build his library, Truman had to exercise his famed work ethic to raise funds. He gave speeches. He wrote thousands of letters. He gave dinner parties. He crisscrossed the country. His efforts paid off. Truman raised over a million dollars in a year and a half. The total cost for the library would amount to $1.8 million. The library opened in July 6, 1957 to a crowd of over five thousand people (McCullough, p. 961). Truman achieved his goal.

But his work didn’t stop after the library was built. Truman would then go on to work at his library six days a week (sometimes seven) for nine years. He would give tours to his special guests and sometimes even students. As historian David McCullough points out, he worked at his library for a longer span than as his time as president (p. 967). He did not stop his frequent visits to his library until five years before his death in 1972 (p. 984). His time spent there would ensure his library would continue to be a success.

“The Truman Library Today”

So what does the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum offer its visitors today?

Like all the presidential libraries, the Truman Library is more of a museum than an actual library. The library carries over seven million papers from Truman’s presidency, as well as photographs, sound recordings, and even some of his diary entries. But the library also offers huge museum exhibits about the thirty-third president. Here are some notable parts of the library:

Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times:

This permanent exhibit illustrates the personal side of Truman’s life. His life is divided into five segments: the early years, family, political career, life in the White House, and Mr. Citizen. Along with genuine artifacts, documents, and photographs, interactive activities help keep younger guests entertained while learning about Truman.

Harris S. Truman: Presidential Years:

The other permanent exhibit the Truman Library offers is one dedicated solely to his presidential years. This 10,500-square-foot exhibit outlines the major events of Truman’s presidency such as World War II, the dropping of the atomic bomb, the Cold War, and more. It even includes two decision theaters where visitors can vote for what they would’ve done in Truman’s place.

Harry Truman’s Office:

During his time at the library, Harry Truman would work out of his own personal office. If he arrived to his office particularly early that day, he would answer the library’s phone (even calls regarding the library’s hours). Mostly though, he would “sit happily among his beloved books…saying what he thinks and doing as he pleases” (McCullough, p. 967). The office is presently under renovation to preserve the original artifacts.

Courtyard:

The library meant so much to Truman that he asked to be buried in the library’s courtyard rather than in Washington. His reason? “I want to be buried out there so I can get up and walk into my office if I wanted to” (p. 988). His wish was respected and both Truman and his wife Bess are buried in the library’s courtyard.

Special Events:

The Truman Library frequently holds special events and programs. Check out the library’s website at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/programs.htm to see what’s new.

Resources Online:

Can’t make the trip out to Independence? Lesson plans, online exhibits and even podcasts of Truman’s speeches are available to those who visit the Truman’s Library website at http://www.trumanlibrary.org.

Sources:

McCullough, David. Truman. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 1992.

“Museum Exhibits.” Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. http://www.trumanlibrary.org/exhibits.htm