Project Reviews

Upset! Harry S Truman's Whistle Stop Campaign Remembered
Created by the Office of the Secretary of State for Missouri

Upset! Harry S Truman's Whistle Stop Campaign Remembered is a simple yet effective site originally created in 1998, the 50th anniversary year of its topic: the 1948 presidential election campaign of Harry S. Truman. Members of the Office of the Secretary of State for Missouri created the site and, unfortunately, have not updated it in years. The site is not a complex one graphically. Indeed, its most impressive graphic element is its opening splash page, featuring the famous photo of Truman and the “Dewey Defeats Truman” newspaper, touched off with some effective Art Deco-style font.

The main site is broken into four main categories: Nomination (June 1948), the Whistle Stop Campaign itself (autumn 1948), Election Day (Nov. 2, 1948), and Inauguration Day 1949. Each category focuses on a different topic, with links to an “exhibit collection” (really, there is an exhibit collection for each section, which creates some confusion) which is really at the heart of the site. The collections feature photographs, primary documents, and testimonies of those who were there. There are photographs and transcriptions of actual letters, as well as photographs of actual Missouri election returns. Also included are brief memoirs of various people, including contemporary Missouri leaders and well-known or not-so-well-known Missourians who were alive at the time. Some of the best features of collection are its few audio files, including an excerpt in .WAV format of then-Missouri Governor Phil Donnelly’s introduction of Truman at the 1948 Democratic Convention.

The site has several great links, including one that explains the story between the Chicago Tribune’s famous erroneous headline of "Dewey Defeats Truman," as well as others with the text of Truman’s nomination acceptance speech and his inaugural address. The site has several rare photographs – including a color image of Truman standing on the back of his train car, the Ferdinand Magellan – and its format is easy to follow. Its font is simple and easy to read.

The major flaw of the site is that it simply has not updated in years. It has several outstanding ideas but is generally too small. Even the exhibit collection, while so effective with the material it presents, is somewhat confusing. A site uses the link "exhibit collection" in several areas, but it will lead to a different area of photographs and documents, depending on which section the user is browsing in the site. It is a shame that the site has not updated more in the last five to ten years to present a much more comprehensive look at the 1948 campaign. The Truman Library has a wide array of photographs and data available on its own site. The library also has complete maps of Truman’s 21,000-mile whistle stop campaign, as well as audio excerpts from different speeches at different places. (There are also certainly materials available to cover the campaign of Tom Dewey, the favorite in 1948 who now receives much less attention. The site, as one might expect, hardly makes any mention of Dewey, other than in regards to the famous Chicago Tribune headline) Such ideal features would be awesome additions for the Whistle Stop web project. It appears that the creators of the site (and the site’s creators are listed in an acknowledgments section) simply ran out of steam in their own campaign to put together what could be a great web project.

One is left feeling that they were busy with other things in their lives or felt that web users had lost interest in their site. The authors of the site obviously, in their materials, presentations and sources, intended the audience of the site to be comprised mostly of Missourians. Perhaps the enthusiasm and traffic to the site waned as the years went on.The authors had many great ideas for the foundation, but apparently have yet to take the next step. Hopefully they will take it at some point. The Truman Library itself has a great site on all things Harry Truman, but it seems as though the creators of the Whistle Stop site were on to something on their own that was on the verge of being effective, worthwhile, and original.

Sam Herley
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Reviewed: Spring 2007