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Part One: The “Whistle Stop” Tour – President Truman’s Campaign Train…

Social History: Excellent home footage of President Truman on his campaign train “whistle-stop”…

Rear of train and Sam Wah cafe during during Harry Truman’s Whistle Stop tour. Austin, Texas. – 1948

The “whistle-stop” tour has been a tradition in American politics since the mid-1800s. Politicians travelled the nation by train, stopping to speak to citizens from a platform at the back of their train car. On these tours, candidates spoke to people across the country.


Click on photo above to see British newsreel of Truman and Dewey campaigning. Various locations in the United States of America.

In this Nov. 4, 1948, file photo, President Harry S. Truman holds up an election day edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, which, based on early results, mistakenly announced “Dewey Defeats Truman.” “If Congress does something, then I can’t run against a do-nothing Congress,” President Barack Obama said Oct. 6, 2011, at a White House news conference. “If Congress does nothing, then it’s not a matter of me running against them. I think the American people will run them out of town.” Obama’s message

President Harry S. Truman (left) and Vice President-Elect Alben Barkley (right) holding up their hands, on the rear of a train at Union Station in Washington D.C. Democratic National Commiteee Chair J. Howard McGrath in background.

Truman on a 30,000-mile whistle-stop tour during his 1948 re-election campaign with Mrs. Truman and daughter Margaret Truman. 

The “whistle-stop” has such appeal that campaign managers decided to expand its meaning. Today, the term refers to just about any type of political event while on tour—even closed-door fundraising meetings and speeches in private jet hangars.

Dining salon aboard the private railway car used by President Truman. 

Harry Truman began his train trip in September 1948. His special train was call the “Magellan.”

President Truman chose to travel by train so that he could stop and give speeches to people in many towns around the United States. The train could go slowly and safely through the big crowds that would gather in large cities to hear President Truman speak. It could race across the prairies.

President Truman and Vice President-Elect Barkley on private car rear platform. 

The train had 17 cars. The train had two diners where people could eat. It had three lounge cars where people could sit and talk or read. The train had cars where people could sleep. The train had a press car where newspaper reporters traveling with Pres ident Truman could write stories for their newspapers.

The most important car of the train was the car where President Truman and his family lived during the campaign.

The Crowds

Crowds of people came to see President Truman and listen to is fiery speeches on the platform at the end of the train.

Mr. Truman’s train stopped in little towns and big, sometimes making eight speeches a day.

More Crowds

At every stop, crowds of people came to hear President Truman. He was known as a plain-speaking man and he told it like it was.

People were convinced by his honesty and integrity to vote for him.

Mr. Truman talked to special groups of people. One of his speeches was to women on Democratic Women’s Day, September 27, 1948.

“I have said that you are the housewives of our Nation. You are the mothers, too. I am a parent, and I can understand your feelings that your children must have the best education available. Education will bring them the skills and the knowledge which will enable them to lead useful and happy lives.

The Democratic party advocates Federal aid for education administered by the states. We insist upon the right of every child to obtain a good education, no matter what his color, no matter where he lives, or what the economic status of his parents may b e. We fought for the appropriation of three hundred million dollars as a beginning of Federal aid to education. The Republican 80th Congress ignored my request.

Margaret Truman interviewed by the press on the train.

Women hold the balance of power in this election. You women of America have a million and a half more potential votes than men. I am confident that you will use this power to bring about a secure and good future for yourselves and your families. Only through the Democratic Party can you reach this goal. I know that you will put faith in our Party, and return it to full power on the first Tuesday in November.”

Being Swept Along

News articles announced the crowds and festivities surrounding the President’s train arrival.

Here’s one of them, from Boston, October 27th, 1948:

It was estimated that 20,000 people waited to welcome the President at South Station and a crowd estimated at 250,000 cheered him as he rode along the streets to the Hotel Statler.

Greetings of “Hello Harry” were shouted by the throng and the President stood and waved to the crowds as the cars swept along.

Almost Over

On this trip, President Truman traveled 30,000 miles, and made 201 stops to speak. “I have had a most pleasant trip across the United States and back. In every city people have turned out, just as you have here, in order to see the President and to hear the President, and understand his viewpoint. That is my errand across the nation. A nd if it is getting results, I am extremely happy. And I think it is getting results. I should be back in Washington this morning about 12:30, and then I shall have to go to work as usual.”

Results of the 1948 Tour

Many people voted for Harry Truman because he spoke to the common man on his own ground. Truman’s Whistle Stop Campaign was a great success, and despite what the news media believed would happen, Truman was re-elected in 1948.

Thanks to the Truman Library

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