Presidential Campaigning: Truman's Whistle-Stop Tour

Presidential Campaigning: Truman's Whistle-Stop Tour
Bess Truman: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: Three to four class periods

Required Documents
Graphic Organizer


In the presidential election of 1948 Harry S. Truman, the Democratic incumbent President of the United States, ran against the Republican nominee, Thomas E. Dewey.Most of the national media didn’t give Truman much of a chance of winning the election. One of Truman’s campaign tactics was an ambitious 30,000-mile whistle stop train tour around the United States. On some days he made as many as eight speeches. Large crowds came out to listen to the President. Bess Truman accompanied her husband on these campaign tours on a special train called The Magellan. It was from the back of this train that the famous photograph of Harry Truman holding up the newspaper that proclaimed “Dewey Defeats Truman” was taken.


Students will refresh knowledge of the continental United States by labeling states and cities (if teacher chooses to do this). Students will write a persuasive campaign speech in which they consider and incorporate the views and needs of their audience.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; blank outline map of the United States; Graphic Organizer for campaign speech.


1)      Begin the lesson by having the students access the Truman Whistle Stop Tour Web Page from the site. Have the students complete the tour either on their own or working in pairs. This can be done in a computer lab if available or it could be projected and done as a whole class activity. This is a geography-based activity. As they move from page to page they should label each state mentioned on the outline map handout. A geography extension could be to have students locate major cities in each state listed in the tour and create their own campaign route.

2)      The teacher will then conduct a class discussion to ascertain student understanding of the purpose of the tour. The teacher should ask questions such as: Why did Truman choose this method of campaigning?Do you think this whistle stop campaign affected the outcome of the election? What did he discuss in his speeches? What specific groups of people did he target in his speeches and why did he do so?

3)      Following the class discussion the students will be asked to write a short campaign speech. This will be a persuasive writing piece. This lesson could be incorporated into actual classroom or student council elections. The students will use the graphic organizer provided to help design their speech. In the writing process, students should consider their audience, and incorporate issues appropriate to that audience.

Extending the Lesson:

A natural extension to this lesson would be to conduct an actual school wide election using whistle stop campaign practices. Students could travel from classroom to classroom and present campaign speeches.

Sources & Resources:

Steven R. Goldzwig, Truman's Whistle-Stop Campaign, Texas A&M University Press, 2008.


Truman’s Whistle Stop Tour
Blank Outline Map of the United States
This lesson was developed by Robert McClelland, Cleveland Metropolitan School District.