April 8, 1952: Truman Orders Steel Mills Seized by the Government!

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A Brief History

On April 8, 1952, President Truman ordered the Federal government to take control of the nation’s largest steel mills to prevent a strike that would interrupt steel production.

Digging Deeper

At the time, the US was involved in the Korean War, making Truman a “wartime” president.  As such, Truman claimed his authority as Commander in Chief of the nation’s military allowed him to seize steel production for military purposes.

The case went to the US Supreme Court, and the court ruled against Truman, saying that the separation of powers part of the constitution had been violated.

The cracked angle to this court ruling was that every one of the justices had been appointed by either Truman himself or Franklin Roosevelt, his Democratic predecessor!

Harry S Truman (History and Headlines note: The “S” does not have a period after it because it does not stand for a middle name, it is just “S!”) had been a senator when Roosevelt tapped him as his running mate in the 1944 presidential election.  Vice president Henry Wallace was considered by the powers behind the Democratic Party to be too liberal and too allied with labor unions and was forced out allowing Truman to run with FDR and become vice president. Barely weeks into his 4th term, FDR died and left Truman president, which apparently was okay with the American people because they elected Truman to a full term in 1948.

Lauren Bacall lounges on top of the piano while Vice President Truman plays for servicemen at the National Press Club Canteen in Washington, D.C. (February 10, 1945)

Things went downhill for Harry Truman in his second stint as president, with labor strife ranking near the top.  After dealing somewhat successfully with the chaos after World War II, having created the Marshall Plan (assistance to the rebuilding of Europe), reorganizing and integrating the armed forces, one plan Truman failed to achieve was national health insurance.  Yes, it goes back that far!

With the Soviet achievement of creating their own atomic bombs and the war in Korea not going particularly well, Truman’s popularity dived.  Having fired America’s possibly most respected general, Douglas MacArthur, the prospect of an economy crippling steel strike that could well spawn even more strikes was overwhelming.  Losing his bid to seize control of the steel mills was a major defeat for Truman, and in the 1952 presidential election it virtually guaranteed a Republican victory with Dwight Eisenhower getting elected.

As is often the case, “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” and Harry Truman is remembered more fondly now than during his last years in office.  Respected for integrity, honesty, commitment to civil rights and keeping us out of nuclear war, Truman and his wife were honored by receiving the first Medicare cards in 1965.

An nuclear powered aircraft carrier was named for him in 1996. Sometimes criticized for using atomic bombs against Japan, Truman helped rebuild the world after World War II and prevent World War III. Perhaps his most famous legacy is the plaque on his desk that said “The Buck Stops Here.” History and Headlines facts: Truman refused to profit from his presidency by making endorsements or taking a corporate job.  He had no presidential pension and his only pension was from the Army, $112.56 per month!

Was Harry S Truman a great president?  You decide, and tell us!

Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Marcus, Maeva. Truman and the Steel Seizure Case: The Limits of Presidential Power (Constitutional Conflicts). Duke University Press Books, 1994.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.