Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
Served as 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; and Secretary of the Treasury, 1946-53. Secretary Snyder was a close friend of Harry S. Truman beginning with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.
March 18, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley
See also: John W. Snyder Oral History, by Jerry N. Hess of the Harry S. Truman Library.
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This interview was conducted by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill as part of a intern and independent study project at William Jewell College in March 1976, under the direction of the Political Science Department of William Jewell College. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill.
Opened December, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
March 18, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley
STILLEY: Mr. Snyder, where did you first meet President Truman?
SNYDER: Well, it was my great privilege to have met him back in the twenties. He and I had both been in World War I; we both had been captains. I was with the 32nd Red Arrow Division in Michigan and Wisconsin, and he was with the 35th Division of Missouri and Kansas, I believe it was. He was the commander of the famous Battery D--I am sure you have heard of it quite a number of times in the interviews--and I was the Brigade Operations Officer
for the 57th Field Artillery Brigade, and later went up into the Army of Occupation under General Irwin, and had a very interesting time for a very young man. I don't know how old you young men are, but I think I was about 22 or 21 when I got my commission. I was interested in seeing Europe for the first time, and in a war, too. But that is the background. We both had military connections.
After we got home we were invited to join the Officers Reserve Corps--Field Artillery Reserve Corps--which we did, and we met at one of the training camps, where the Reserve officers would assemble in the summertime for a two-week course. This was at Fort Riley, Kansas, where we met for the first time. Of course, we were considered veterans having served full-time in World War I, and, therefore, our greatest value was to talk with the young ROTC officers that were just coming out and getting commissioned, and give a touch of reality. And of course, we did instruction in artillery maneuvers.
It was there that I just immediately decided I liked him. I think at that time he was lieutenant colonel--they gave us a little higher commission--I was a major. But that was when our friendship started and it just continued and expanded through the years. We saw a great deal of each other, we always went there until up in 1938, I believe. He and I went two weeks to these camps in various parts of the various artillery installations, and met with the young officers.
We became, he and Harry Vaughan--you've heard of him, he was the President's Military Aide when he became President, and remained with him throughout his Presidency. Vaughan had been with him in France, and so he took a commission and was there with us; and in time, why, we became the three officers of an artillery brigade in the Reserve. It was a paper organization. I've forgotten what the numbers were right now, but we were the three regimental commanders of the group that would meet. We had, in our organization, assigned to it, various young officers from Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri,
We after years were very pleased after World War II, to check back on the young men that we had with us year after year and find what splendid records they made in the war, proving to us that the Reserve Officers Training had been well worthwhile and they had taken full advantage of it.
We went through those years in the Reserve, and Senator Truman--we of course cut out calling him Colonel Truman--well, of course, he was lieutenant colonel and then became colonel and I became colonel and Vaughan became colonel, and we were colonels when we were commanding the three regiments. But during that time Judge Truman was Presiding Judge in the Jackson County Court, which you found out while you were in Kansas City, had two courthouses, one in Kansas City and one in Independence. And going to and from--I lived over in Arkansas, and later St. Louis, and so I used to go by and we'd go on over to the camp, and then we'd stop off there on the way back. I used to visit him in his Court and see him presiding.
The Jackson County Court was administrative and not judicial. The three members of that court
looked after the operation of the County, the various roads, the building of schools, the eleemosynary institutions, various administrative jobs rather than judicial. The President, as you know, did not go to college. Of course, back in those days you could became a lawyer by taking a correspondence course. That's been changed quite a bit during the year.
Now we have brought him up to being Judge. Now what's your next question?
HILL: Do you know why he decided to run for the County Judge post? What brought that about
SNYDER: He had a friend, Jim Pendergast, who was with him in the war, World War I, and he was looking for a connection and Jim suggested that he should run, get into politics, and run for an opening. I think his first race maybe he didn't win. The next time he did, and he was elected to the County Judge's position there, and of the three they chose him as the Presiding Judge.
HILL: I've read in places that he did not work real
closely with the Pendergast organization.
SNYDER: Well, he did not. See now the man who has the great reputation as the Pendergast boss, was Jim's uncle, and Jim was very, very active in the organization, but Mr. Truman--apparently Mr. Pendergast thought that it was nice to have somebody that he could point to with pride, so he didn't press Judge Truman for any particular favors, he just let him run a good job over there. And he did a magnificent, magnificent service as Judge. He was responsible for the building of the first good hard road system in Jackson County, the first paved good system over the state. He built the courthouse, and he built some of the eleemosynary institutions, and in all of those President Truman early developed a system of finding out about what he was going to try to do. When he built the courthouse he traveled all over the country looking at courthouses, how they were built, what their accommodations were, what the capacities, what they need have for efficient services; and he talked with the various contractors
and various architects and so forth. When he got in the road system, he traveled around to see what other states had done with their road systems and what surface they put on them, and how deep a bed, and the foundation, and the necessity of analyzing the soil through which you went in order to get a firm foundation for the highways. And in everything that he undertook he went to the root of it first before he ventured out on it, and as a result, he built quite a reputation, as you young men learned over there, for efficient operation of the county.
HILL: Did Judge Truman enjoy his years on the court?
SNYDER: Oh, thoroughly, yes. 0f course, at camp, too, it became evident that Mr. Truman liked people. Mr. Truman in his court work began to show great depth of human appreciation of humanity, of wanting to know what's best for the people, not fox him, and not for the county, but what's best for the people; and he was that way, of course, in the military there. He was always looking out for how
to help the young soldiers and the young officer; pick his weak spots out and try to fortify those. Then in his county jurisdiction there as presiding Judge, I began to observe how tremendously and penetratingly interested he was in people. I won't repeat the stories you've heard over in Kansas City that he would sit in his court room, and if anyone came in the door, if it was a Battery D man, he pretty near got what he came to ask for. I don't know whether you've heard that one, but that was quite a story around; whether it was true or not, we won't go into the depth of that. But it was showing that he carried through his great attachment and his feeling towards the enlisted men, even after the war.
HILL: If we can back up for just a minute. The business venture that he had in his store, did that upset him when that was lost?
SNYDER: Yes, naturally it did at first, because he was puzzled about his judgment about going into something that he knew nothing about. His friend
who took him in as a partner, was a very fine person and was a--this was before my acquaintance with him. He had already had that shortly after he got out of the service and was over that by the time I met him. But he was determined though, after it was closed, and as you've learned, during his lifetime he paid back all the settlement that they made for less than dollar for dollar; he later paid them all back. Made quite an impression on him then, too, the importance of knowing what you were doing, and that helped him penetrate deeper into the job that he was going to undertake in later years, and followed him all the way through. And I'll tell you, he was great.
HILL: Now back. What thing contributed to his decision to run for the Senate in the first place?
SNYDER: A very, very deep one. He was offered the spot on the Democratic ticket and the backing of the Kansas City organization, and he just decided he'd try