An Indian Civilizational Perspective

Harry Truman and his Unlikely Victory in 1948

Truman

Sometimes history is made and even the underdog shines. It does not happen too often in politics – where power rules. In the 1948 Presidential elections in the US, Harry Truman was that underdog. Thomas E. Dewey was the frontrunner. And a big one!

IN the last few months, Truman traversed the country in a personal railcar and travelled around 22000 miles delivering some 300 speeches. And when he was done on election night – as he slept he was predicted to lose. When he got up the next morning.. he had won. And he won by a popular vote with margin of 1 million and almost 3 times the electoral college votes! But he was supposed to lose!

So, much was the people’s expectation that he will lose that even the Chicago Tribune printed the morning edition with the headlines “Dewey defeats Truman”! A faux pas, that became famous with his picture with one of the paper’s copies.

There were many factors involved in producing this error edition. Returns were coming in slow and they were running out of time before the printing deadline. The staff, based on early returns, “felt” Dewey would win. In addition, many of the regular Chicago Daily Tribune staff were out on strike so inexperienced people were setting the type. They did the front page, and portions of a few others, on a typewriter. Rather than erasing typos or incorrect numbers, they simply “x”ed them out with the “x” key on the typewriter. In the far right hand column, there are even 5 lines of type upside down! All issues went out this way.

After delivery of the paper, enough returns had come in to show that the gap between Truman and Dewey was closing. It was apparent that Truman would win after all. One can imagine the panic that set in at the “Tribune” offices. Since the papers had already been shipped out for delivery to customers, staff were sent out with trucks and station wagons to get these papers from the news stands and the homes in the suburbs of Chicago. Thousands were retrieved but many remained in the hands of customers.

The “recalled” papers were brought back to the warehouse and treated as regular “returns”. As was common procedure for returns, the upper right hand corner of the front page (the “ear” portion) was clipped off. In some cases, portions of the nameplate and even date area ended up being ripped off.

Next, these papers were put out in the trash to be hauled off to a dump yard. Few realized the potential value of this edition, thus, very few of these were taken home by staff or rescued from the dump yard by individuals. For this reason, this edition can be found in the intact and “ear removed” format. The “ear removed” format, of course, has a much lower collector value.

When Truman went to bed November 2, he was losing the election. Upon arising the next morning he, of course, learned he had won. he traveled to Washington, D.C. that day by train. On a short stop in St. Louis, Truman was presented with one of the “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” papers while on the back platform of the train. It was at this moment that the now famous photo of Truman holding up the paper was taken. When asked to comment, Truman said “This is for the books.”

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