Independence, Missouri, just east of Kansas City, is the hometown of Harry Truman, the 33rd president of the United States. The home he shared with Bess is an attraction, as well as the Truman Presidential Library.
However, he was born near the little town of Lamar in southwest Missouri in 1894. That site is now a Missouri State Historic Site. Just south of Kansas City in Grandview is the Harry S. Truman Farm, a part of the Truman National Historic Site. He lived and worked there with his family for 11 years.
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Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum
The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum showcases the grit of Give ’em Hell Harry, the man who made tough decisions to end World War II, to desegregate the U.S. military, and lead us into the Korean War. From Civil Rights to the NATO and the United Nations and recognizing the State of Israel, you’ll learn that Harry Truman was much more than a simple farm boy from Missouri.
The library reopened in 2021 after a major renovation that added much depth to the man, the events that shaped his character and how his character shaped the world.
The new exhibits in the library tell us more about his life on the farm that made him tough, but also the gentle side of young Harry that spent hours reading books and practicing the piano. His piano playing skills would eventually entertain dignitaries from around the world in the White House. One of the Truman pianos is on display at the museum.
With bad eyesight and thick glasses, and of short stature, Harry Truman was an unlikely hero when he enlisted in World War I. He rose to the ranks of captain and commanded an artillery unit that did not lose one soldier in combat. He was there in Meuse-Argonne Offensive, firing cannons until 15 minutes before the war ended on November 11, 1918. His Army uniform is a popular new display.
Harry Truman in Public Office
With several failed businesses, Truman was an unlikely candidate for public office, but it was here he found success. As presiding judge of Jackson County, Missouri, he was responsible for building a parks system that much of Kansas City and neighboring communities enjoy today. He had a reputation as a straight shooter.
Then suddenly he was the junior senator from Missouri, and then vice president. On April 12, 1945, upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this little known man from Missouri became the 33rd president of the United States. One new exhibit at the Truman Library is original footage from Roosevelt’s funeral.
Less than a month later, Germany surrendered and Harry Truman was faced with a decision about Japan. Until he became president, he didn’t even know that the Manhattan Project was underway. The safety plug from “Fat Man,” the atomic bomb that dropped on Nagasaki, is a pivotal display in the remodeled Truman Presidential Library.
After absorbing the impact of what the Fat Man plug represents, then look for the exhibit on Sadako’s paper crane, created by a young Japanese girl who died of radiation exposure.
Understanding Post-WWII at the Truman Presidential Library
At the end of World War II, the people of Berlin were caught in a humanitarian nightmare as the Soviet Union blocked all resources coming into the Allied-controlled area. So Truman oversaw the Berlin Airlift, which dropped hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, medicine and other needs on a daily basis for more than a year. Step inside the cargo hold of a C-47 to understand how phenomenal this operation was for the time.
As you tour the Truman Presidential Library and Museum, you’ll realize the White House was literally falling down when he took office in 1945. One exhibit shows a major support beam that was damaged when the British set fire to the White House in the War of 1812. It had never been replaced. The foundation was a disaster, so the Trumans moved out and lived across the street for most of his first term as the White House was restored.
This is about the time Harry Truman, against the objections of many close advisors, decided that the United States would recognize the State of Israel. There’s a great new exhibit that deserves your time. He called it his proudest achievement.
There’s an incredible exhibit about the McCarthy era and the Committee on UnAmerican Activities. Sit down in the hot seat and take the questions fired at normal, hard-working Americans during that difficult period of U.S. history.
And no visit to the Truman Library is complete without a quiet moment to appreciate the Thomas Hart Benton Mural called “Independence and the Opening of the West.” It’s controversial and ugly in places. Truman and Benton had disagreements about it. But it is a remarkable piece of art by Missouri’s painter that showcases life in Independence in the mid-19th Century.
Important Stops in Harry Truman’s Independence
It’s fun to visit the Truman Presidential Library on May 8, Harry’s Birthday, for free admission and free cake and punch.
But to really celebrate Harry’s birthday, stop in for ice cream at Clinton’s Soda Fountain on the square in downtown Independence where the future president worked as a teenager. He swept floors and scooped ice cream and all the odd jobs one would expect. His favorite treat with a butterscotch sundae with chocolate ice cream.
Then step next door to “Wild About Harry,” a modern era haberdashery saluting one of Truman’s many failed careers. Wild About Harry is not a souvenir shop, although some Truman souvenirs are available. Check out the collection of presidential bobbleheads as well as clocks and coasters with some of Harry’s best sayings.
Looking for cuff links made from football leather? High-end model airplanes? Bar tools for the man-cave? Or a hand-crafted walking still like that Harry used when strolling the streets of Independence? That’s the type of product you’ll find at Wild About Harry.
It’s just a fun place to look around and explore, but truly a great place to buy local and celebrate Harry Truman’s lively presence in Independence, Missouri.
You might want to have lunch at the Courthouse Exchange Restaurant, a feature in Independence since 1899. Harry often ate there. Or give Dixon’s Chili a try on Highway 40. The 33rd POTUS loved that place as well and they have his favorite recipe on the menu yet today.
When you find yourself in Washington, DC, say hi to Harry in the Capitol Rotunda. His statue, added in September 2022, is only the 10th president to have a statue on permanent display in the U.S. Capitol.
Learn More about Harry S Truman