How to Use
Reading 1: Years of Growth (1884-1906)
Harry Truman's life began in the small, country town of Lamar, Missouri on May 8, 1884. In 1890 his family moved 120 miles north to the growing community of Independence. The family bought a house at 619 South Crysler Avenue where Harry made friends, attended school, and did chores.
One reason for moving to Independence was that Harry, his brother, and sister could attend graded schools, rather than the typical country one-room schoolhouse with children of all ages and grades mixed together. In class, Harry studied spelling, reading, literature, language, grammar, penmanship, arithmetic, geography, history, civil government, drawing, music, hygiene or health, and physical culture (physical education). Teachers had a very important impact on young Harry Truman, as he later wrote in his memoirs, "I do not remember a bad teacher in all my experiences. They were all different, of course, but they were the salt of the earth. They gave us high ideals and they hardly ever received more than $40 a month for it."¹
Harry was very close to his family, especially his mother, who taught him how to read and play the piano. Radio and television were not invented yet, so Harry's family sang and played the piano for entertainment. The young boy also loved to read, especially history books, although his interests were so widespread that he later joked, "There were about three thousand books in the library downtown, and I guess I read them all, including the encyclopedias."² Harry's love of reading continued throughout his life.
In 1896, his family moved to a home on the corner of Waldo Street and River Boulevard. Here, Harry and his childhood friends enjoyed sledding in the winter and fishing in the local rivers during the summer. He remembered, "Our house became headquarters for all the boys and girls around.... There was a wonderful barn with stalls for horses and cows, a corn crib and a hayloft in which all the kids met and cooked up plans for all sorts of adventures...."³
Harry also kept busy with chores, and later, a job. To keep warm in the winter, wood had to be hauled in for the fireplace or stoves. Much of the family's food came from backyard gardens. Even in town, many people kept chickens and dairy cows. Of course homes did not have electricity. Some had gaslights, but most relied on candles and oil lamps. At 14, Harry began his first paying job at Clinton's drugstore on the town square. He received three dollars a week for working there before school and on the weekend.
Throughout high school Harry was an excellent student and loved to learn, especially about history. He wanted to go to college, but his family did not have the money to send him. So, following his 1901 graduation, he held a series of jobs before moving to Kansas City, where he made a good salary as a bank clerk. In 1906, he left this job and moved back to Grandview, Missouri, to help on his family's farm. He had never farmed before, and it was hard work for someone more used to city life.
Questions for Reading 1
1. How were schools in Independence different from country schools? What subjects did Truman study in school? How are they similar or different from what you study? What was Truman's favorite subject in school?
2. Name some things families did for entertainment in Truman's day.
3. What was Truman's favorite pastime at home? How did having a public library influence his life?
4. Why didn't Truman go to college? Where did he work after high school graduation?
5. Why did Truman move to Grandview, Missouri?
Reading 1 was compiled from Robert H. Ferrell, ed. The Autobiography of Harry S Truman (Boulder, Co.: Colorado Associated University Press, 1980); David G. McCullough, Truman (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992); Merle Miller, Plain Speaking (New York: G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1973); and Harry S Truman, Year of Decisions, vol. 1, Memoirs by Harry S Truman (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1956).
¹ Harry S Truman. Year of Decisions, vol. 1, Memoirs by Harry S Truman (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1956), 118.