The Story Behind the Famous
Dewey Defeats Truman Error Edition

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 of 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."

Collector value for this famous error edition fluctuates. Just prior to and just after a presidential election, the value goes up to as much as $1,000. The off years, when there is not a presidential election, the value goes down to as low as $600.

Will Rogers Quotes on Politics:

Will Rogers was a famous humorist during the depression of the 1930's. Here are some of his quotes concerning politics and government.

"In America we have the best politicians money can buy."

"I could never understand why a man would spend $50,000 to get elected to an office when the job only pays $3000 a year!"

"The taxpayers are sending congressmen on expensive trips abroad. It might be worth it except they keep coming back!"

"Why don't they pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting anybody from learning anything? If it works as well as prohibition did, in five years Americans would be the smartest race of people on Earth."

"You can't say civilization isn't advancing; in every war they kill you in a new way."

"I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts."

"There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you."

"Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate; now what's going to happen to us with both a Senate and a House?"

"On account of being a democracy and run by the people, we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does."

"Elections are a good deal like marriages. There's no accounting for anyone's taste. Every time we see a bridegroom we wonder why she ever picked him, and it's the same with public officials."

"The Democrats and Republicans are equally corrupt -- it's only in the amount where the Republicans excel."

"I can remember way back when a liberal was generous with his own money""

"A fool and his money are soon elected."

"We always want the best man to win an election. Unfortunately, he never runs."

"You've got to be an optimist to be a Democrat, and you've got to be a humorist to stay one"

"Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for."

"I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." Web Site Update
  • Over thirty historic newspapers have been added to the Online Newspaper Archives. Dates of new entries range from the battle at Fort Ticonderoga in 1758 to the death of Preisdent Nixon in 1991.

  • Two new history trivia tests have been added to the interactive quizzes section.

September Contest

QUESTION: What famous dictator was the British fighting simultaneously to fighting America in the War of 1812?

ANSWER: Napoleon.

Fifty-two people entered the September contest. All enteries had the correct subject heading in their email entry. Sixteen entries did not indicate which DVD they wanted if they won so they were disqualified. Three of the DVD's were awarded.

This Month's Question:

The slang "OK", meaning yes or everything is all right, came out of an 1800's presidential campaign.

    1) What did "OK" originally stand for?

    2) Which president's campaign did it originate from?

Contest Rules

  • Contest entry deadline is Thursday, October 14, 2004. Later entries will be disqualified.

  • Only one entry per subscriber.

  • To enter, email your answer to with the subject heading "Contest Entry" (either with or without the quote marks.) From subscribers submitting the correct answer for both questions, and the correct subject heading, three will be selected to win a prize.

  • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in 2004 are ineligible to win.
  • Contest Prizes

    Winners will receive an original historic newspaper with front page coverage of the aftermath of the President William McKinley assassination in 1901. These are excellent editions of The Buffalo Commercial as all three contain bold, banner headlines and are from the city where the event happened.

    That's it for this issue.

    Rick Brown

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