EDUCATORS ’ PERSPECTIVE
I am instructing the Commodity Exchange Commission , which consists of the Attorney General and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce , to demand of the grain exchanges that they increase their margin requirements to at least 33 1/3 %. If the grain exchanges refuse , the government may find it necessary to limit the amount of trading .
I say this because the cost of living in this country must not be a football to be kicked about by gamblers in grain . [ Emphasis added ]
In President Truman ’ s eyes , there was nothing positive about speculators in grain markets .
After John Truman ’ s catastrophic losses , Harry was forced to return to the family farm . He enjoyed farming but was never able to turn much of a profit from his agricultural endeavors . Meanwhile , his farm debt continued to grow as Harry expanded into other businesses . A foray into a Kansas oil company known as the Morgan Oil and Refining Company in 1916 came up dry when the company ran out of cash and was forced out of business . According to historian Robert H . Ferrell , “ Had the partners drilled deeper they could have tapped into the famous Teter Pool and become millionaires .” Instead Truman was left with nothing for his $ 5,000 investment . A similar investment in an Oklahoma lead and zinc mine that same year also left Truman with a $ 7,500 loss .
World War I interrupted Truman ’ s business endeavors when the 33-year-old volunteered to go to war . Truman ’ s war experience honed his leadership skills , established life-long relationships and set him on his path to the White House . In France , Truman and fellow soldier Edward “ Eddie ” Jacobson were tasked with running a canteen . The partnership proved to be successful and sparked a lifelong friendship . After the war , Jacobson and Truman went into business together opening a haberdashery in Kansas City . The haberdashery was initially successful , but it was forced to close during the economic downturn of 1921 . It took Truman 15 years to pay off all the debts incurred from the failed business .
Harry S . Truman riding a cultivator on the family farm in Grandview , Missouri , circa 1910 .
Fortunately , politics intervened . Truman aligned himself with the Pendergrast machine and was elected to a judge ’ s position in Jackson County , Missouri . The position was essentially a county commissioner ’ s post that paid about $ 3,500 a year . It didn ’ t make Truman rich , but it stabilized and improved his finances as Truman ’ s political star rose . Nevertheless , the Truman farm was forced into foreclosure in 1940 while Truman was engaged in a difficult reelection campaign for US Senator . The farmland was sold to friends of Truman in 1945 , who sold part of it back to the then Vice President . Truman was able to buy back the rest of the farm the next year after his ascension to the presidency increased his salary substantially .
When Truman ’ s second term ended in 1953 , he and his wife Bess were happy to return home to Independence , Missouri . However , financial difficulties arose soon after . At the time , presidents did not receive a pension or any other support from the federal government after their term of office expired . Truman received a pension from his time in the Army , which amounted to $ 112.56 a month , but it was not adequate to cover the costs of a former President . Truman spent $ 10,000 on postage stamps alone in his first year out of office . The math simply didn ’ t add up when the costs of two assistants and renting office space were considered .
Truman was offered many lucrative jobs with few responsibilities after his presidency , but he turned them all down on principle . “ I could never lend myself to any transaction , however respectable ,” wrote Truman , “ that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency .” 1
One solution to the financial impasse was to write his memoirs , which Truman quickly set out to do . Soon after leaving office , Truman signed with Doubleday for an astronomical advance of $ 600,000 . Taxes , however , at 67 %, devastated the advance . Although his memoirs sold well , after expenses , Truman bitterly noted that he was left with only about $ 37,000 from the advance .
Matthew Algeo , chronicler of Harry and Bess ’ s 1953 road trip , writes , “ No 20th century President retired to more humble surroundings than Harry Truman .” The Trumans drove themselves from Independence , Missouri to the East Coast and back without Secret Service support or any other government assistance . It was one
Harry S . Truman Library & Museum www . MoAF . org | Winter 2023 | FINANCIAL HISTORY 7