Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

"The Buck Stops Here" Desk Sign

Background for the Teacher:

This famous desk sign was made at the United States Southwest Reformatory (Federal Reformatory) in El Reno, Oklahoma. While visiting the Reformatory in 1945, Fred M. Canfil, then United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri and a friend of Truman, admired a similar sign on the desk of Warden L. Clark Schilder. Schilder promptly offered to have his staff make one for President Truman. Buck Side

The desk sign was designed by Buford E. Tressider, the head of the paint shop at the Reformatory, who apparently made and painted the upright glass portion himself while receiving assistance from the Reformatory's carpenter shop to fashion the walnut base.

MO Side The sign measures approximately 2 1/2 inches by 13 inches. The glass portion bears the legend "The Buck Stops Here" on the front and "I'm From Missouri" on the back. A felt pad on the bottom of the sign bears the legend "El Reno."

President Truman received the sign on October 2, 1945. The saying "the buck stops here" derives from the slang expression "pass the buck" which means passing the responsibility on to someone else. The latter expression is said to have originated with the game of poker, in which a marker or counter, frequently in frontier days a knife with a buckhorn handle, was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal, he could pass the responsibility by passing the "buck," as the counter came to be called, to the next player.

On more than one occasion President Truman referred to the desk sign in public statements. For example, in an address at the National War College on December 19, 1952, Truman said, "You know, it's easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you -- and here on my desk I have a motto which says "The Buck Stops Here" -- the decision has to be made."

In his farewell address to the American people given in January 1953, President Truman referred to this concept very specifically in asserting that, "The President -- whoever he is -- has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job."

(The above material is from the Truman Presidential Library.)


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