President Harry S. Truman had little experience in politics and had only been Vice President for 82 days when he took the oath of office and assumed the presidency of the United States. Considered a breath of fresh air after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s elite and more patrician bearing, the American public related to the unassuming man from a humble home in Missouri. Truman is famous for his decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war with Japan, but other parts from the life of America’s thirty-third president are less commonly known.
5 Dreamed of Being a Concert Pianist
As a child, Harry Truman got up at 5 a.m. every morning, practicing piano for two hours. At first, his mother taught him, but she eventually sent him to a more experienced teacher in Kansas City. At the age of 15, he abruptly quit his lessons, but he continued to play piano throughout his life. His daughter Margaret played as well. When a “Washington Post” music critic wrote a lackluster review of one of her performances in 1950, President Truman fired off an angry letter to the man in defense of his daughter, saying in part that if they ever met, the critic would “need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”
4 Failed in the Business Sector
President Truman tried his hand at several business opportunities, all of which failed. First, he helped organize an oil-drilling company, investing $10,000 in the venture. Although it collapsed, he managed to break even on his investment. In November 1919, shortly after his marriage, he began a men’s haberdashery business. Although the business failed three years later, Truman refused to file for bankruptcy, instead opting to pay off the debts of the business over a 15-year period. Soon after the business tanked, he was elected judge and spent the rest of his professional life in public office.
3 Wife Was His Childhood Sweetheart
In 1890, when Harry Truman was just six years old, he met Bess Wallace in his Sunday school class. It was love at first sight, and he never loved another woman. They began dating in 1910, and Truman worked hard to prove he was worthy of Bess’ hand. His family struggled, while she came from a wealthy and prominent family. It took him over eight years to convince her to marry him. She finally accepted, and they wed June 28, 1919.
2 “S” Doesn’t Stand for Anything
Since President Truman’s full name is often written “Harry S. Truman,” most people assume the “S” is an initial to represent his middle name—it isn’t. In fact, his middle name is S. When young Harry was born, his parents didn’t want to offend either his paternal or maternal grandfathers by using one of their names over the other. Since both men had names that started with the letter “S,” his mother simply listed the single letter as his middle name. It’s not technically an initial and therefore shouldn’t be followed by a period, but President Truman typically added a period when signing his full name. Most style guides indicate the period should follow the “S” for consistency.
1 Survived an Assassination Attempt
On Nov. 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate President Truman to draw attention to the Puerto Rican independence movement. Three White House policemen were shot in the ensuing gunfight, one of whom later died from his injuries. Only one of the gunmen, Oscar Collazo, survived. Truman was napping upstairs and awoke to see part of the commotion through a window, but was ordered by police to take cover. The President complied and was unharmed. Collazo was arrested, later tried, convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. A week before his scheduled execution, President Truman commuted the sentence to life in prison.