Prologue Magazine
Spring 2002, Vol. 34, No. 1

Spotlight on NARA

Updating Harry Truman's Library:

Interactive Features Enliven New Exhibits after Extensive Renovation

Truman statue with grandsons
Clifton Truman Daniel (left) and Thomas Washington Daniel, grandsons of the former President, stand with the newly unveiled statue of Harry S. Truman. (Harry S. Truman Library, photo by Bruce Mathews)

When the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, opened in 1957, one of its most popular attractions was Harry S. Truman himself.

The former President, whose home was just down the street, spent a lot of time at his library in the late 1950s and 1960s nurturing his library— greeting visitors, leading tours, meeting with student groups, receiving important guests, or tending to daily business in his office. He even started the volunteers program, which now numbers 118. And it is said that if you called the library early enough in the morning, Truman himself, a noted early bird, might answer the phone.

Today, the Truman Library does not have the nation's thirty-third President. However, it can point with pride to the results of a $22.5-million renovation that not only has provided much-needed structural repairs and upgrades to the building but also expands the library's exhibit and educational space and breaks new ground in its efforts to make Truman and his times come alive for new generations of Americans.

New components to the library provide technology-rich, interactive exhibits highlighting the Truman presidency and an experienced-based program in which high school students learn how decisions were made in the Truman White House. Another exhibit, detailing Truman's life before and after his years as President, will open in 2003.

"These new features at the library help us do a much better job of recreating the Truman presidency for generations who are unfamiliar with it and to show how many of the important decisions President Truman made still guide our nation today," said Michael Devine, director of the library.

As the nation's second-oldest presidential library, the Truman Library has been for years a destination for millions of tourists, history buffs, students, and others who wanted to find out more about one of the most colorful and popular Presidents of the modern era.

After assuming the presidency in 1945 upon Franklin Roosevelt's death, Truman was elected in his own right in 1948 and served until 1953, when he retired to Independence. He died in 1972.

A Rededication

With most of the renovation completed, the Truman Library was re-dedicated December 9, 2001. At the ceremonies, David McCullough, author of the Pulitzer Prize - winning biography Truman, noted how Truman's rise to power and greatness often puzzled people. "People called him a simple, little man from Missouri," McCullough said. "But he wasn't simple and he wasn't little. Giants come in all sizes."

Rededication Ceremony
The rededication ceremony took place on the steps of the Truman Library. (Harry S. Truman Library, photo by Bruce Mathews)

Truman's eldest grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, also spoke, noting that his grandfather had spent a lot of time in developing the library in its early years. Now, he said, it is time to bring Truman's story to a twenty-first-century audience. "There are a whole bunch of young people and new immigrants who haven't heard of him," he said.

The rededication also featured remarks by Devine; Thomas McDonnell, chairman of the Truman Library's private, nonprofit support organization, the Truman Library Institute; and Robert Holden, governor of Missouri.

The eighteen-month renovation project at the library, which opened in 1957, is the most extensive renovation to date of any of the nation's ten presidential libraries, which are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Updating Harry Truman's Library, Part 2

Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.
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