Businessman. Before World War I, Truman had lost money in mining and oil investments. In 1919, he and his friend Eddie Jacobson invested their savings in a men's clothing store in Kansas City. They worked hard, keeping the store open from 8 a.
m. to 9 p. m. , but the business failed during the severe recession that began in 1921.
Truman worked about 15 years to pay the store debts. Political career Discouraged by the failure of the store, Truman decided to seek a career in politics. He received help from 'Big Tom' Pendergast, the Democratic Party boss of Kansas City. Pendergast's nephew had known and admired Truman in the Army. Pendergast led one of the strongest political machines in the United States. He decided that Truman could win votes because of his farm background, his war record, and his friendly personality.
County judge. Pendergast supported Truman in his campaign for election as county judge of Jackson County. This post in Missouri resembled that of county commissioner in other states. Truman won the election, and served from 1922 to 1924. He lost the 1924 election because of a split in local Democratic forces. Truman attended the Kansas City School of Law during the mid-1920's, but did not obtain a degree.
He served as presiding county judge from 1926 to 1934. The Pendergast machine was notoriously dishonest, but Truman won a reputation for honesty and efficiency. He supervised new projects financed by $14 million in tax funds and bond issues. U. S. senator.
In 1934, again with Pendergast's support, Truman was elected to the United States Senate. As a member of the Senate Interstate Commerce Committee, Truman directed an investigation of railroad finances. His staff found damaging evidence about many of Truman's friends in Missouri, but he ordered the investigation completed. A major result was the Transportation Act of 1940, which regulated railroad financing. Also during this time, a government study of the Pendergast political machine disclosed vote frauds and shady financial dealings.
Pendergast pleaded guilty to income tax evasion, and he and many of his followers were sent to prison. The scandals did not touch Truman, but he refused to disclaim Pendergast. In 1940, Truman won reelection to the Senate. The Truman Committee.
In 1940, although the United States was not formally involved in World War II, the nation's defense spending rose to huge sums. Truman realized that the defense effort created many opportunities for waste and corruption. He remembered that many committees had investigated military spending after World War I-when they were powerless to recover wasted funds. Truman urged the Senate to set up a committee to investigate defense spending as it occurred. Early in 1941, the Senate established the Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. Truman was named chairman.
The Truman Committee, as the group soon became known, uncovered waste and inefficiency. It saved the government about $15 billion and speeded war production. Vice President. In 1944, many Democratic leaders believed that President Roosevelt would not live through a fourth term in the White House. They realized that the man they chose for Vice President would probably succeed to the presidency.
The contest for the vice presidential nomination almost split the party. Many liberals supported Vice President Henry A. Wallace for renomination. Others favored Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
Southern conservatives preferred James F. Byrnes, a former justice of the Court. Roosevelt refused to name a preference. But Robert E. Hannigan of St. Louis, Mo.
, a Truman supporter and chairman of the party's national committee, backed Truman as a compromise candidate. Truman had a national reputation as a result of his committee investigations. He also had a good voting record as a senator, and Roosevelt was willing to accept him. Byrnes withdrew, and the delegates nominated Truman on the second ballot. Roosevelt and Truman easily defeated their Republican opponents, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York and Governor John W.
Bricker of Ohio (see Roosevelt, Franklin D. (Election of 1944) ). As Vice President, Truman presided over the Senate. During the 83 days he held this office, he worked hard to obtain Senate approval of Henry A. Wallace as secretary of commerce. He also broke a Senate tie by voting against an amendment prohibiting postwar delivery of goods through the Lend-Lease program (see Lend-Lease).
First Administration (1945-1949) Late in the afternoon of April 12, 1945, Truman was suddenly summoned to the White House by telephone. He was taken to Eleanor Roosevelt's study, and she stepped forward to meet him. 'Harry,' she said quietly, 'the President is dead.' Truman's first words were: 'Is there anything I can do for you?' Mrs. Roosevelt replied: 'Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.' Truman's vice president and Cabinet At 7: 09 p. m. , Truman took the oath of office as President.
The next day, while talking to White House newsmen, he said: 'Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don't know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.' The end of World War II. When Truman became President, Allied armies were winning the war in Germany, and were preparing to invade Japan. Events moved swiftly. Thirteen days after Truman took office, the first United Nations conference met in San Francisco (see San Francisco Conference). Then, on May 7, Germany surrendered.
Truman proclaimed May 8 as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). It was his 61 st birthday.