Harry Truman Seattle Stories


Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, visited the State of Washington several times.  Those occasions resulted in good stories and the enrichment of the Truman legend.

Truman was not your everyday type of President.  Truman had been a U.S. Senator from Missouri, and a graduate of the powerful Kansas City political machine.  He was placed on Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth-term ticket as Vice President precisely because he seemed innocuous and therefore wouldn’t rock the political boat.

FDR’s death suddenly raised Truman to international prominence.  He took firm control of the national government and successfully carried out the European and Pacific World War II efforts, including the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan.  The feisty personality of Harry Truman would later emerge on the public stage.

While staying at Seattle’s Olympic Hotel in the late 1940s, Truman told a small group of fellow bourbon-sippers that he had a recent operation resulting in the removal of some of his intestines.  Savoring the attention, Truman then told listeners that his doctor declared: “You’ve got too much guts anyway.”

During the turbulent 1948 presidential election, his first run as the Democrats’ standard-bearer, he played to a full house at the old Metropolitan Theatre — now the University Street entrance to the Four Seasons Olympic Hotel.  While laying out his program in free-swinging Missouri fashion, an excited member of the audience suddenly hollered: “Give ’em hell, Harry.”  Truman stopped, looked at the audience and said that he didn’t give anyone hell, he just told the truth and his opponents thought it was hell.  The statement “Give ’em hell, Harry” was reported on the wire services, later becoming the title of a Truman biography.

And here’s a local Truman fish story:  A Puget Sound fishing guide who had a reputation for both drinking and verbal exaggeration was hired to take Truman salmon fishing.  Also aboard the boat was U.S. Sen. Warren G. Magnuson and Washington Gov. Mon C. Wallgren.  The day wore into evening and when the hard-working guide got home his wife immediately accused him of stopping off for a round or two.  Vehemently denying her claim, the tired fellow explained that, indeed, he had worked very hard for paying customers: the state’s Governor, U.S. Senator, and the President of the United States.  “That settles it,” his wife declared.  “You’ve been drinking,” and she left the room.

In the mid-1950s retired Harry S. Truman came west to raise money for his presidential library in Independence, Missouri.  After the usual speeches, the gala affair at the Washington Athletic Club included local Native dances provided by members of the Swinomish Tribe near La Conner, Washington.  At the dance’s end, a chief of the tribe welcomed Truman and noted that the former president’s middle initial “S” didn’t stand for anything (which was true).  The chief then proclaimed that henceforth and forever, Mr. Truman would be known as Harry Swinomish Truman.  With a wide grin, Truman acknowledged the gift and said he was delighted to accept the new name.

Another Truman legend.

Junius Rochester
Junius Rochester
Junius Rochester, whose family has shaped the city for many generations, is an award-winning Northwest historian and author of numerous books about Seattle and other places.


  1. Thanks for the great Truman stories! When I think of Truman these days what usually comes to mind is his comment; ‘SHOW ME A MAN THAT GETS RICH BEING A POLITICIAN, AND I’LL SHOW YOU A CROOK’…

  2. One of the true characters in our history. Another character, was another Harry Truman, who dwelled at Mt. St. Helens. I was reminded of him with the recent anniversary of the eruption.

  3. The fishing trip was not successful. So the guide took the boat over to another boat, where he bought a salmon from the other fishermen, and when the Presidential party returned to shore, Truman showed off the fish for the photographers. But reporters found out about the trick, because the seller of the salmon bragged about it.

  4. That’s a great story but unfortunately I have to throw some cold water on this one. The “guide” was my wife’s grandfather, Nick Bez. He’s the gentleman rowing in the photo of Truman holding the salmon in the small boat. He was a prominent businessman (commercial fishing and canneries) in Seattle at the time and very active in the state Democratic party. Nick was a Yugoslavian immigrant and Truman received some criticism for his continued friendship with Nick as a sign that he was soft on Communism. He also received criticism because Nick received a number of retired military DC-3s after the War that he used to build his airline, West Coast Airlines and a large military cargo ship that was converted to an exploration fishing vessel. The interesting legend is that Nick was giving the fishing vessel so he could use it as a spy ship as he explored fisheries on the edge of mainland Soviet Union. It’s true that Truman didn’t catch a fish, and it was sourced from someone at the dock for the photo shoot.

  5. As a little girl, I remember standing with my parents and watching the motorcade go by with President Truman. I was born in 1945 so I was still pretty small but I still remember it and I will forever. For a little girl to get to see the parade, and all the people was fascinating, and something one would not forget.


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