1. Harry S. Truman
  2. About the Library
  3. History of the Truman Library & Museum

History of the Truman Library & Museum

This Library will belong to the people of the United States. My papers will be the property of the people and be accessible to them. And this is as it should be. The papers of the Presidents are among the most valuable sources of material for history. They ought to be preserved, and they ought to be used. --Harry S. Truman, New York City, May 8, 1954

Truman Library & Museum

The Harry S. Truman Library, the first Presidential Library to be created under the provisions of the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act, was established to preserve the papers, books, and other historical materials relating to former President Harry S. Truman and to make them available to the people in a place suitable for exhibit and research. The Library building, which cost $1,750,000, was built by the Harry S. Truman Library Inc., a private corporation, with funds donated by more than 17,000 individuals and organizations from all parts of the country. The building and Mr. Truman's Presidential papers were transferred to the Government at a dedication ceremony held on July 6, 1957, and attended by Government officials of both parties. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the principal address.

The Library, located in Independence, Missouri, President Truman's hometown, crowns a knoll facing U.S. Highway 24 on land donated by the City of Independence. In 1968 and 1980 additions to the building were completed at a cost of $310,000 and $2,800,000, respectively. The present Library building, which is a one-story full basement structure, is roughly circular in configuration. The total floor space is about 100,000 square feet. The building contains stack areas for the storage of manuscripts, books, and audiovisual materials, a research room, staff offices, an auditorium, conference and seminar rooms and museum exhibit and storage areas. President and Mrs. Truman are buried in the courtyard, as are their only child, Margaret Truman Daniel, and her husband, Clifton Daniel.

The core of the Library's research holdings and the principal reason for its existence is its collection of the papers of Harry S. Truman. These papers consist principally of the White House files for the Truman administration. They also include papers that document Mr. Truman's life and careers as farmer, soldier, businessman, local politician, U.S. Senator, Vice President and former President. Since the Library opened it has engaged in an ambitious acquisitions program. Presently, in addition to the Truman papers, the Library has in its custody more than 450 manuscript collections of individuals who were associated with Mr. Truman at some point during his career in an official or personal capacity. The Library also has a small quantity of Truman-related Federal records among its holdings. The largest segment consists of the records of Presidential commissions and committees appointed by President Truman during his administration.

At present the Library has about 15,000,000 pages of manuscript materials in its custody. Approximately 6,500,000 are the White House files. In addition to its manuscript collections, the Library also has an audiovisual collection consisting of about 128,000 still pictures, 1,300 hours of audio disc and tape recordings, 500 motion pictures and 1,000 hours of video tape recordings. The Library's collection of printed materials includes more than 10,000 books. In adding to the book collection, the Library attempts to purchase any new books on the history of the Truman administration or relating to the career of Harry S. Truman.

The Truman Library established an oral history project in 1961 in an effort to fill gaps in the written record. The areas of emphasis have been President Truman's early career, the work of the White House staff during the Truman administration, and United States foreign policy during Truman's presidency. More than 500 transcribed oral history interviews are in the Library’s collection.

More than 15,000 researchers have visited the Library's research facilities since 1959. Approximately half of the researchers who come to the Library each year are scholars or graduate students working usually in the fields of history or political science. The other half are college and high school students, writers, film makers, journalists, genealogists, and people who have a personal interest in Truman's life and career. Researchers have come from almost every state in the Union and from more than 40 foreign countries.

The Harry S. Truman Library Institute, a non-profit corporation, was organized in 1957 to foster and assist in the Library's growth and development as a national center for study and research. Its directors are leaders in government and public affairs, university officials, scholars, and businessmen. The purposes of the Institute are to promote research into the Truman administration through the awarding of grants and the sponsoring of scholarly conferences, to assist in the development of the Library's museum and public programs, and to help the Library in many ways to maintain the integrity of its programs. The Institute does not use government funds but depends on the public for gifts and bequests.

Another facet of the Library's activities is its museum exhibit program. The Library has about 32,000 objects in its museum collection, only a small portion of which are on display in the museum at any one time. Most of the items in the museum collection were given to Mr. Truman while he was President. Among the gifts in the collection are valuable presents from foreign heads of state and more humble presents from American citizens from all walks of life. The exhibits in the Library's museum emphasize the career of Harry S. Truman, and the history of the Truman administration. Among the permanent exhibits are a mural painting in the entrance lobby, "Independence and the Opening of the West," by Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton; a reproduction of the Oval Office as it was during the Truman administration; and the office which Truman used in his retirement years.

Through its public programs unit, the Library attempts to reach a diversity of people and organizations by sponsoring conferences and research seminars, by conducting special tours of the Library's museum for school classes and educational groups, and through a wide range of other activities.

The Truman Library is a Presidential library operated by the Federal government. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library was the first Federally-administered Presidential library. In 1955, Congress passed the Presidential Libraries Act providing that the Federal government could accept the papers of any former President, along with the land, building and equipment required to house and preserve the papers and other historical materials, and make them available to the public. Prior to the passage of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 making Presidential papers public property, Presidents upon leaving office had traditionally regarded White House files as their personal property. The federally-operated Presidential library is designed to act as the depository for a President's White House files and other manuscript and audiovisual materials deposited there by a president or his associates.

Presidential libraries are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration as a part of the nation's record-keeping system.