On April 12, 1945, the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died suddenly after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, Vice President Harry S. Truman was called to the White House, where Eleanor Roosevelt delivered the news that he was now the nation’s leader. Truman, who had only served for 82 days as vice president, was sworn in as president that same day. On April 13, he told reporters that he felt as if “the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.” Truman had been selected as Roosevelt’s running mate only the previous year, for Roosevelt’s fourth presidential election bid. When he was chosen, Truman was in his second term as a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate, a position he had attained at the age of 50.
Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri. Monetary concerns kept him from attending college; instead, he worked a variety of jobs, including as a bank clerk and on the family farm. Over the years, he tried several times to start his own business but found little success. In 1917, when the United States joined World War I, Truman volunteered for duty and was sent to France. Attaining the rank of captain, he won the respect and loyalty of his subordinates.
After returning to the United States, Truman was introduced to Thomas Pendergast, who controlled the Democratic political machine in Kansas City. With Pendergast’s support, Truman was elected as a county judge in 1922. He later won additional judgeships and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934. In spite of his connection with the corrupt Pendergast machine, Truman developed a reputation for honesty and integrity. During his second Senate term, Truman further cemented his reputation for responsibility and diligence with his work on the Special Committee Investigating National Defense, which ensured that government defense spending was not wasteful.
When Truman became president in 1945, he was faced with the immediate challenges of seeing the war to a close in Europe and the Pacific, negotiating postwar borders and influence over Europe, and shifting the United States to a peacetime economy. Perhaps his most controversial decision as president was the use of the newly-developed atomic bombs on Japan. After the war, Truman faced other growing concerns: the Cold War , a nuclear arms race , and the spread of Communism. With the Truman Doctrine , issued March 12, 1947, he pledged U.S. support for countries resisting “totalitarian regimes,” and in 1950, he involved American troops in the Korean War, a decision that would help to erode his popularity. Truman, who had won the presidential election in 1948, announced on March 29, 1952, that he would not run for president again. He spent two decades in retirement until his death on December 26, 1972.