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John W. Snyder Oral History Interview, May 1, 1968

Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

Secretary of the Treasury in the Truman Administration, 1946-53. Other Federal positions once held include Executive Vice-President and Director, Defense Plant Corporation, 1940-43; Assistant to the Director of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1940-44; Federal Loan Administrator, 1945; Director, Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46. Secretary Snyder has been a longtime close friend of Harry S. Truman beginning with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.

Washington, D.C.,
May 1, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened September, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]


Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

Washington, D.C.,
May 1, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess



HESS: Mr. Snyder, there was an unveiling of a portrait at the White House a couple of weeks ago of a painting of Mrs. Truman by Greta Kempton. Would you tell me the background of how Miss Kempton came to be known by yourself and by President Truman, and about some of the portraits she has painted for both you and for the Truman family?

SNYDER: Yes, Mr. Hess. Miss Kempton came down to Washington in 1946. She was a friend of Mr. Glenn Martin and his mother. Mr. Glenn Martin was the owner of the Glenn Martin Aviation Company of Baltimore, as you recall. They were living at that time in the Shoreham Hotel. They had a big suite there and spent quite a bit of time in Washington. One day Mrs. Snyder, Drucie, and I walked through the lobby of the hotel and Miss Kempton became very much attracted to my daughter


and asked the Martins who we were and asked if it would be possible for her to meet us, as she had a great desire to paint a portrait of Drucie. This was in 1946 and at that time Drucie was twenty-one years old. Miss Kempton was quite an accomplished portrait painter and artist. She was born in Austria of rather well-to-do parents, and had been given art lessons with several noted European portrait painters; and then she married and came to the United States. She did quite a bit of painting here in this country. Because of her attraction to my daughter, the Martins had a little dinner party and invited us -- as it happened, both of them were very close friends of mine -- and we met Miss Kempton. Out of that meeting grew the offer to paint Drucie's portrait, which she did, and that portrait attracted quite a bit of attention, and the Trumans, in due course, saw it. In the meantime,


however, because of the excellence of the portrait, she was requested to paint several other portraits around the city. In the meantime she asked would it be possible to paint the President's portrait and I talked with him about it and he said, "Why, yes, it would be all right." Up until that time the President had not had a portrait painted. When she finished it, the family was pleased with it, and it was acquired by a group of friends who presented it to the White House.

HESS: That's the painting that's in the White House at the present time?

SNYDER: It's there now, yes.

Well, a whole series of paintings grew out of that initial one of Drucie. That one hangs out in the Horton house at Chevy Chase. It's an exceptionally attractive portrait. John Walker at the National Gallery has spoken of it as being a Romney. He said that it has all the


characteristics of a Romney portrait, which pleased us very much, of course. But, out of that, as I mentioned, she has painted five portraits of Margaret, and now she has painted three of Mrs. Truman. Of the President's, one hangs in the White House, there's one in the Truman Library...

HESS: The Masonic portrait?

SNYDER: Yes, in his Grand Master's regalia. That, actually, I think, belongs to the Grand Lodge in St. Louis. When they did some repairing there, they loaned it to Mr. Truman. He just hasn't sent it back. There's one in the capitol, I think, in Jefferson City. I just don't recall where the others are. Of course, Mrs. Truman's, the first one, is in their home in Independence and the second one is in the White House and the third one is in the Truman Library.


HESS: Was the one that is in Mr. Truman's home now painted to go someplace else?

SNYDER: It was intended to go in the White House to start with, but the Truman version is that it got packed up by mistake and shipped with their things to Independence and as they did not unpack things for a number of months, that when they did get around to it, Mr. Truman said he liked it so well he was just going to keep it there.

I've had the privilege of having her paint, I think, about six portraits of me.

HESS: Where are they located?

SNYDER: Well, one of them hangs in the Treasury here, in the office of the Secretary of the Treasury; there's one in the capitol in Little Rock, Arkansas; there's one in the Truman Library; there's one at the Horton house, there's one in the high school in Jonesboro, Arkansas.


HESS: Where you went to high school.

SNYDER: Yes. And she has now about completed another one which Drucie is going to give to the National Portrait Gallery, but that will be delayed some -- the gift will be made probably within a year, but will not be hung until my death as they have a regulation that they hang no portraits of living persons, except those of Presidents.

HESS: Do you recall where the portraits of Margaret are?

SNYDER: Well, I think both of them are in Independence.

HESS: At the Truman home?


HESS: Anything else come to mind about Miss Kempton right now?

SNYDER: Well, as I mentioned a while ago, she painted


quite a number of Truman Cabinet members: Stuart Symington, while he was Secretary of the Air Force; Bob Hannegan as Postmaster General; Tom Clark, Attorney General.

HESS: Were most of these painted at the time that the men were in those positions?

SNYDER: Yes. Nearly all of them were, except two of mine which were painted subsequently. The one in the Truman Library has been painted more recently, and then, of course, the one she's working on now. She got married again, the second time, and her husband for some strange reason put his foot down on her painting portraits, and for fifteen years she didn't paint any portraits at all, except the one of me which he gave her permission to do -- the one that's in the Truman Library. That was the only portrait she painted for a period of nearly


fifteen years, and now she has gone back again to painting portraits and has done quite a number in the last couple of years.

HESS: You mentioned to me one day the reason for your portrait being hung in the state capitol in Arkansas. What was that?

SNYDER: Well, the reason for it is one of which I am very proud: I was, and am, up until now, the only native-born Arkansan that has ever served in a President's Cabinet, that was one of the contributing reasons; and the other was to do honor to a native of Arkansas. A group commissioned Miss Kempton to paint the painting and it was hung there in the capitol and it's been there for about twenty years now.

HESS: I may have some further questions on this subject and if I do we can take them up in our next interview.


Mr. Snyder, in Volume II of Mr. Truman's Memoirs, he has the following statements to make leading into the subject of the revision of the Government accounting system. One page 43 he has the following paragraphs:

The Treasury Department of the United States is one of the largest organizations in the executive branch of the government, and the need for tight controls and for efficient operation on a day-to-day basis is crucial to the total operations of government. I was particularly fortunate in having a Secretary of the Treasury who understood the problems of national and international finance thoroughly and who administered the affairs of the Treasury for more than six years with rare skill and wisdom.

John W. Snyder was actually my third Secretary of the Treasury, but he served during the major portion of my administration. Secretary Morgenthau's resignation occurred within three months after I became President, and because I appointed Vinson to the Supreme Court, his secretaryship was of short duration. My selection of Snyder in June 1946 as chief fiscal officer of the government was based on a long association which had existed between us. I had known him when I was presiding judge of the Jackson County Court and he was a bank official in St. Louis, and we had been together in military reserve training. I knew him as a banker who understood


stood the relation of good banking practice to the community, and during my years in the Senate our mutual confidence and friendship had continued to grow.

With Snyder in the Treasury, I was able to bring about some long-needed reforms in the Treasury Department. One of the big accomplishments was a complete revision of the government accounting system. Working with a team made up of the Budget Bureau, the Treasury, and the Government Accounting Office, we were able to set up a uniform accounting procedure throughout the whole government. Where it formerly took from three to six months to get a composite financial statement, it now requires from three to six weeks only.

What can you tell me about that revision of the accounting system?

SNYDER: That was a most important revision of custom and of practice in the Government. Up until we obtained the legislation for the regision, it had been the custom of any department to devise its own accounting system and have it checked by a CPA and the Government Accounting Office -- the GAO -- and if it looked like a good, workable system it was approved. As a result there was


no uniformity in the records of man-hours, the personnel accounting, or in the expenditures. To make a composite statement of only a few of the large departments was a long drawn out adjustment experience to get them onto a common basis and to come up with the annual report of the Government operations required months of lead time to pull them together and reconcile them to the same basis o