Automotive History: The Cars of President Harry S Truman

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Succeeding Franklin Roosevelt upon his death in 1945, Vice-President Harry S Truman became the 33rd President of the United States.  Also a former Senator from Missouri, Truman was a loyal and devoted Chrysler man.

truman 41s by libraryimage source:  Truman Presidential Library

These two 1941 models are among the Chrysler products purchased by then Senator Truman.  The coupe was purchased for himself; the sedan for Mrs. Truman.  Both were delivered to the Truman’s the day after Senator Truman won re-election in November 1940.

Years later the Truman Presidential Library succeeded in finding and obtaining both cars for display.  As they had lost their luster from age and a succession of owners, the Chrysler Corporation stepped forward to perform a restoration in the 1990s.

Both are on display at the library in Independence (an eastern suburb of Kansas City).

Truman 1941 Chrysler

Both of the cars are powered by a 241 cubic inch straight six.  The two-door is a Royal Club Coupe; the four-door is a Windsor sedan.  The Windsor was the second most popular Chrysler that year while the Royal Club Coupe was the third most popular.

truman 41 chryslers

I have seen both of these cars twice; however, these low resolution pictures were sourced from the Truman Presidential Library website.  These Chryslers are displayed in the library basement and behind glass; photographic quality of them as displayed would have been highly undesirable.

truman invoice
Adding a sense of history is the original invoice from when they were purchased.  Note that Truman traded in both a ’38 Dodge and a ’40 Chrysler.

Truman 1953 Chrysler ad

Upon leaving the presidency in early 1953 after Dwight Eisenhower was elected, President Truman and his wife Bess packed up their brand new 1953 Chrysler and drove themselves back home to Independence.  While this may seem bizarre now, Secret Service protection wasn’t given to former presidents until 1965.

Not able to determine whether Truman’s ’53 Chrysler was a two-door or four-door, here is a picture of both from the Windsor series.  Chrysler built just under 32,000 Windsors and just over 52,000 in the Windsor Deluxe series.

truman 53 chrysler

The 1953 Chrysler was later traded for a 1955 Chrysler.  This ’55 Chrysler New Yorker is the car the Trumans took on a family road trip to see their daughter Margaret in New York City.

truman 55 chrysler

After leaving Independence, President and Mrs. Truman made their first stop in my old stomping ground of Hannibal, Missouri, where the Mark Twain novel Tom Sawyer is based.  At a diner in Hannibal, the Trumans were quickly identified by observant individuals.  Their inability to maintain anonymity continued for the duration of the trip.

 Truman 55 Chrysler

For 1955, the Chrysler Corporation produced 33,300 New Yorker sedans.  The standard engine on the New Yorker was a 331 cubic inch (5.4 liter) V8 kicking out 250 horsepower.

Truman-With-1970-Chrysler

Years later, President and Mrs. Truman were ready for another car purchase.  While I have been unable to locate any information on his automotive purchases for the years between 1955 and 1970, perhaps you have noticed a pattern; he purchased another Chrysler.

Or perhaps Truman did not purchase a 1970 Chrysler.  The picture above comes from the Truman Library and it states the car is a 1970; information from the maintainers of the home, the National Park Service (the home and library are two separate entities) stated Truman had a 1969 Chrysler that he traded in 1972.  Resolving discrepancies like this is when research can be fun, and while the Chrysler above is represented as a 1970, the side marker light is more like that of a 1969 model.

Truman 1970 Chrysler

For reference, here is what the ’70 Newport looked like: note the location of the yellow marker light near the front bumper.

truman 69 chrysler

This is a 1969 Chrysler.  Other than the grille and trim, there is minimal difference between the two years, yet the discrepancy in information is annoying.  The marker light on this ’69 Chrysler is more like that seen two pictures above, near Truman’s left knee.

I’m leaning toward it being a 1969 model.  Perhaps the Valiant in front of Truman could shed some light on things, but I cannot ascertain enough detail to distinguish it as either a ’69 or ’70.

truman 72 chryslerimage source:  National Park Service

President Truman died in 1972 six months after buying his very last Chrysler.  This 1972 Newport was used by Mrs. Truman until her death in 1982.  At that time, Margaret Truman donated it to the National Park Service, the agency that maintains the home and property.

The four-door Newport Royal was the most popular Chrysler for 1972 with 47,400 being built.  One could argue this has been among the best treated of them, and with just under 19,000 miles it is likely one of the lowest mileage examples in existence.

Information on the Truman Home website stated Truman was fastidious about car maintenance, having his cars washed and vacuumed every few days with smoking in the cabin strictly prohibited.

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The 1972 Newport is still maintained and stored in the garage of the Truman Home.  It is sometimes visible for display during the summer months.

On a trip through the Truman Home in 1999, Mrs. Jason and I were able to see the rear of this Chrysler in the garage.  My questioning of the tour guide was met with some incredulity and I surmised Truman’s green Newport was not a subject of frequent questions.  That is unfortunate.

Truman 1972 Chrysler 2

This gives a rear view of the Newport.

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Kudos to President Truman on his consistent choice of cars.  Incidentally, while the Truman Home is on Delaware Street, the house is only a few blocks from Crysler (without an “h”) Avenue.  Coincidence?

Truman 1972 Chrysler