One side of Harry S. Truman’s famous desk sign read, “The Buck Stops Here.” The other side read “I’m From Missouri.”
For Truman, Independence was home. He also had well-documented business and social ties in Kansas City. Not as well-known were his many connections with St. Louis, the state’s largest city and metropolitan area.
In several letters to his wife, Bess, Truman made reference to his travels in St. Louis, especially during the 1930s and early 1940s. The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum has letters that Harry wrote to Bess on St. Louis-Colorado Limited Railroad (Wabash-Union Pacific) letterhead and on Coronado Hotel stationery.
An active Mason throughout his life, Truman attended Masonic meetings in St. Louis in 1942 and 1955. One of Truman’s Masonic friends was Rabbi Samuel Thurman of United Hebrew Congregation, in St. Louis.
In 1934, during his first campaign for the U.S. Senate, Harry Truman faced two opponents in the Democratic primary, one of whom, John (Jack) Cochran, was from St. Louis. Truman enjoyed the very important backing of Tom Pendergast of Kansas City. Pendergast’s political influence did not extend east to St. Louis, however, so a Truman victory would ensure that western Missouri would have representation in the Senate. St. Louis already had representation in the U.S. Senate with Bennett Champ Clark. Truman won the primary contest and went on to win the general election.
In St. Louis, in early 1940, Senator Truman held an important meeting of his advisers, all of whom recommended that he not run for re-election, in part because Truman’s political patron, Pendergast, was in jail for tax evasion. However, Truman was determined to run, and he won the primary election, against very steep odds, and the general election. In his memoirs, Truman credited Robert Hannegan, “a tremendous political influence in St. Louis,” with providing the “biggest break” of the campaign by working to help Truman carry eastern Missouri.
As president, Truman appointed Hannegan postmaster general of the United States. Other St. Louisans (including non-native residents) who served in the Truman administration as part of what was dubbed the “Missouri Gang,” included attorney Clark Clifford, counsel to the president; Harry Vaughan, military aide and a longtime friend who had been in the Army Reserve Corps in St. Louis; James (Jake) Vardaman, naval aide; Sidney Souers, executive secretary of the National Security Council; and John Snyder, secretary of the treasury.
Truman’s last speech during the 1948 presidential campaign took place in Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis. There, he observed that in all of his campaign travels that fall, “I have never had such a reception as you have given me here tonight.” Two days after his surprise victory in the 1948 election, Truman’s train stopped at Union Station in St. Louis, where he was handed a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune bearing the erroneous – and iconic – headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
In June 1950, he attended a reunion of the 35th Division, in which he had served in World War I, in St. Louis. Comedian Danny Thomas entertained at that reunion.
During his lengthy post-presidency, Truman visited St. Louis on several occasions. In 1953, during their return from an automobile trip to see their daughter, Margaret, Harry and Bess stopped for dinner at Schneithorst’s at Lambert Field, the St. Louis airport. In February 1957, Truman spoke at a fundraising dinner for the Truman Library at the Chase Hotel.
Baseball also provided an important link between the Trumans and St. Louis. During the 1944 presidential campaign, Truman, then President Franklin Roosevelt’s vice presidential running mate, attended a World Series game between the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns. The Cardinals later sent annual passes for games to the Trumans. By Truman’s own admission, Bess was a bigger baseball fan than he was. In a letter to August (Gussie) Busch, owner of the Cardinals, dated April 1956, Truman said that he and Bess were Cardinals fans in the National League and “home team” (that is Kansas City Athletics) fans in the American League. In baseball, as in other matters, Truman maintained his identity as a Missourian.
– Sam Rushay is the supervisory archivist of the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence.