Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

President Truman's Desk
Jerry Davenport
U.S. History
Time Frame:
1-2 weeks
Truman Desk

Grade Levels:

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:

To the greatest extent possible, the Oval Office Replica at the Truman Presidential Library is furnished to appear the way it did in August 1950, when National Park Service photographer Abbie Rowe shot a series of photographs of the unoccupied office. The Library staff and exhibit designers have tried to locate as many original or reproduction items as possible to duplicate the look of the office at that moment in time.

The 7-foot desk has been described as "time-worn, fire-scarred, and repainted." It was used by every President with the exception of Franklin D. Roosevelt since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. The original and reproduction items on the desk and the console table behind it create an atmosphere reflecting the personality of President Truman and a flavor of the Fifties.


Looking at his desk student will be able to get a better understanding of the person that Truman was.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

Missouri Standards:

2. Continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world

7. The use of tools of social science inquiry (such as surveys, statistics, maps, documents)



Kansas Standards:

Benchmark 4: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

2. (A) examines multiple primary sources to understand point of view of an historical figure.

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Knowledge/Comprehension:

    Share the background information with students, then have them conduct research on the desk itself, the history of the Oval Office, or life in the United States in the 1950's and present their findings to the class.

  • Application/Analysis:

    Divide students into pairs or small groups. Give each group a copy of the "Truman's Desk Inventory" and "Desk Detective" worksheets. Ask students to complete the worksheet and to share ideas with the class. (Alternatively, students may work online at computers if you have enough equipment available.)

  • Evaluation:

    Parade Magazine, May 22, 1949, used the following terms and phrases to characterize President Truman, based on the items he kept on his desk:

    an average American man
    family man

    Have students make a list of specific objects that match the attributes mentioned above. (For example, frugal = he kept give-away calendars). Do they agree with the writer's conclusions? What other conclusions might they have come to using the same list of objects?

  • Synthesis:

    Hand out copies of the "My Personal Desk Inventory" worksheet. Have students complete them by listing the objects found in and on their school desks. (You may want to have a group try to inventory your desk!) Collect the inventories. Read some unusual ones aloud and have students try to guess to whom the list belongs.

    Have students create imaginary desk inventories for other Presidents or famous people. (How about one for their school principal?) Have them create imaginary inventories for what they might find in the purse or pocket of a President.

    What if President Truman were elected in 1998 instead of 1948? How might his desk look then? What about 1848? 2048?
  • Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide: