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The Story Behind "Dewey Defeats Truman"

The 1948 presidential election campaign was a hard fight for Truman. By traveling thousands of miles, Harry Truman talked and spoke to many people. He spoke out his feelings on the issues rather than double talk his way out of giving a direct answer. The people that listened to him started the now famous phrase "Give 'em Hell, Harry". Harry Truman said he was just telling the truth. More and more people began to come out to listen to his speeches. The famous "whistle stop" campaign drew the farmers and small town people out by the thousands. The Democrats were so badly split that they didn't think Truman had a chance against Dewey. There was very little money behind Truman.

Tuesday, November 2, 1948, Truman and his family voted in Independence, Missouri. Later he went to Excelsior Springs, Missouri and spent the evening at the then famous Elms Hotel waiting for election returns. He retired early and not knowing that history was about to be made in the form of a headline in a newspaper being printed about the outcome of the election -- "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN".

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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