Profiles in Time: President Harry Truman

President Harry Truman

In the midst of WWII, Harry Truman stepped in as the 33rd president of the United States when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt suddenly passed away. In the wake of political unrest and global conflict, Truman inherited a tremendous responsibility. He had to make some difficult decisions, ultimately leading him to drop the atomic bombs on Japan, ending the war. Yet, that wasn’t the end of strife for President Truman. He went on to lead the country through the Cold War and the Korean War. Throughout his years as president, Truman had the support of his wife, his vice president, and the rest of his staff, but there’s one faithful companion that never left his side: his watch.

Harry Truman

Before His Presidency

Harry Truman grew up on a farm in Independence, Missouri. After high school, he worked a variety of jobs in nearby Kansas City. He eventually returned to his family farm and joined the National Guard.

Truman was already in his thirties when the United States entered WWI, which exempted him from the draft.  Still, he helped organize his National Guard regiment for duty, and ultimately they served in France. There, Truman received a quick promotion to captain, leading his team through the Meuse-Argonne campaign.

After the war, Truman returned to his home state and married his childhood sweetheart. Soon after, a local member of the Democratic Party whose nephew served with him in the war approached him. He gave Truman a job as an overseer of highways and, just a year later, encouraged him to run for a county judge position. He won the election but experienced defeat when he ran for a second term. A year later he ran again, won, and served until he ran for Senate eight years later.

Truman was elected to the Senate in 1934 at age 50 and was then re-elected for a second term in 1940. While in-office, he received one of his famous timepieces from his senatorial staff: a Gallet Flying Officer. Today, this historical watch resides at his presidential library in his hometown.

Harry Truman

His Ascent to the Oval Office

In 1944, FDR decided to choose a new running mate during his re-election campaign and he approached Truman. Truman expressed hesitancy, but ultimately agreed to run. The duo was elected in November 1944, and just five months later, FDR died of a massive stroke and Truman became president. In his first six months in office, Truman accepted the Germans’ surrender, dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, and signed the charter ratifying the United Nations.

Truman ran for re-election in 1948. While campaigning in San Antonio, Texas, he received another timepiece as a gift: a Baylor President. A year later in 1949, Truman received a special gift from the first graduating class of Horological Engineering at the American Academy in Denver. It was a handmade 14-karat gold pocket watch.

Just two years into Truman’s second term, the Korean War broke out, and he quickly committed American troops to the conflict,. His decision to involve the U.S. in the Korean War was highly controversial, and his approval rating began to decline.

In 1952, he declared he would not run for re-election and gave his support to another democratic candidate. That Christmas, unique Movado St. Christopher Coin Watch was a gift from fellow members of a Democratic club.

Vulcain Cricket, Harry Truman

Before he officially left the office in 1953, he was gifted one of his most iconic watches, a Vulcain Cricket with an inscription on the caseback reading “One more please.” The model was later worn by several other U.S. Presidents after Truman started the tradition. Today, this timepiece is also on display at his presidential library.

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