Financial History 144 Winter 2023 - Page 8


The Personal Finances of Presidents , Part 2 : Harry S . Truman

By Brian Grinder and Dan Cooper
John Truman was a successful speculator in wheat futures on the Kansas City Board of Trade and was growing wealthy . As is the case with so many futures speculators , Truman made one bad trade in 1901 that lost more than $ 40,000 and reversed his family fortunes . The loss meant that John ’ s 17-year-old son , Harry , would not be able to go to college . It also meant that the future President of the United States had to forego the piano lessons he so enjoyed . From this point onward , Harry Truman struggled with finances , and while his political success mitigated his financial problems for a time , his struggles continued after he left the White House .
His father ’ s failed financial speculations forever colored Harry Truman ’ s negative view of financial markets in general , and futures markets specifically . In the first ever televised presidential speech from the White House on October 5 , 1947 , Truman struck out against futures markets speculation :
Another factor that contributes to the high prices of food is gambling in grain . Grain prices naturally respond to the law of supply and demand , but they should not be subject to the greed of speculators who gamble on what may lie ahead in our commodity markets .
There is a place for legitimate trading in futures and for hedging transactions . But 90 % of all accounts in a recent corn futures market were found to be speculative . Trading in wheat futures grew 75 % in September compared with August . Normal trading in wheat at Chicago should amount to three or four million bushels a day . In this past September , however , trading averaged almost 30 million bushels a day . In a single month , on one exchange , almost half the year ’ s crop was traded — bought and sold — just plain gambling .
Portrait of President Harry S . Truman , circa 1947 .
National Archives and Records Administration . Office of Presidential Libraries . Harry S . Truman Library .
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