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President Harry Truman (far right), campaigned for reelection by train. His upset victory over Thomas Dewey surprised many, including the Chicago Tribune,
which ran the erroneous "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline.

The Chicago Daily Tribune's Red-Faced Event

Scott Kennelly
Washington School, Peoria

The election trail was over, and the newly elected president, Harry S. Truman, was traveling to Washington, D.C., by train. During a short stop in St. Louis, Truman was presented with a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune sporting the headline which was a red-faced incident for the Illinois newspaper. When asked to comment, Truman said, "This is for the books." Numerous factors caused thousands of Chicago Tribune newspapers containing the famous headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman," to be published and distributed the day after the election, but Truman's win was one of the biggest upsets in presidential elections, and the Illinois newspaper made amends years later.

Executives of the Tribune discussed their paper's one hundred twenty-fifth anniversary observances and decided finally to make retribution to Truman in 1972. At times, the paper had not been kind to the president, especially when Colonel Robert McCormick, a staunch Republican, was in charge. A bronze plaque of the front page with the incorrect "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline was prepared for presentation to the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Former President Truman's death, however, preceded the presentation of the plaque. Rose Conway, Truman's secretary, who had worked with him during and after his years in the presidency, was present at the bestowal and said, "I wish he could be here to see it. He dearly loved that issue of the Tribune." The plaque bears the inscription, "Presented with admiration and


affection on our 125th anniversary year to Harry S. Truman, whose election victory in 1948 made this one of the most unforgettable front pages ever published by the Chicago Tribune. "

This "Dewey Defeats Truman" error in the Chicago Tribune resulted from many factors. Members of the Chicago Local 16 Typographical Union began a twenty-two-month strike on November 26, 1947. Inexperienced people had to type the front page, and rather than erasing typos or incorrect numbers, they would simply cross out mistakes with the x key on the typewriter. It was not uncommon to find mistakes, and in this famous issue, in the far right column, there were even five lines of upside-down type. This problem, as well as others, meant that the news had to go to press hours earlier than usual. That Tuesday in 1948, Maloney, the Tribune's managing editor, faced the problem of putting together his first post-election issue. Although the polls in the East, with a few exceptions in New Hampshire, had not reported their results, Arthur Sears Henning, the newspaper's Washington correspondent, made a projection of the winner in the national election. He had been wrong only once in twenty years about the elections and everyone on the 1948 staff of the Tribune agreed that Dewey would win.

Truman's win caused the biggest upset in presidential elections. Almost no one had faith that Truman could win, not even many of his supporters. A walk-over was predicted for Truman's opponent, Thomas E. Dewey. Perhaps this is why the Chicago Tribune was so confident of Dewey's victory that they announced it as such before all the votes had come in. Incomplete returns gave Dewey and Warren a precarious lead over Truman and Barkley. It would probably take all of the complete returns to establish who had won. Whatever the results of the elections would be, the winner would win by a slight margin.

The Tribune, Chicago's leading newspaper, went to press with the headline, "Dewey Defeats Truman." Later in the evening, returns began to indicate a close race. Harold Grumhaus, who was in charge of the paper's manufacturing operations, listened to the radio returns and declared the headline wrong. West Coast results began to come in, and they showed that the gap between the two candidates was closing. Truman would win after all. Maloney ordered the lead story to be rewritten. Then, Stuart Owen, the news editor, called Donald Maxwell, the city editor, and ordered the banner changed: "Early Dewey Lead Narrow."

Nearly 150,000 copies of the error edition had been published before the headline was changed, and many had already been shipped for their delivery to customers. Tribune staff members were sent out with trucks and station wagons to get newspapers from the newsstands and suburban homes of Chicago. Recalled newspapers were hauled back to the warehouse and treated as everyday returns by cutting off the upper right-hand corner of the front page before being taken to the dump. Although thousands of newspapers were retrieved, many remained in the hands of customers. Very few people realized the potential value of this newspaper; therefore, only a few kept their papers. No other disasters of the magnitude of the Dewey-Truman mistake took place for the remainder of the strike, which lasted almost a year past the election.

On Tuesday, November 2, 1948, Truman voted and retired for the evening, thinking that he had not won the election. Earlier that day, the banner of the Tribune read, "Go to the Polls Today." An editorial in the paper urged the election of Republicans, but did not name Dewey or Warren. When Harry Truman arose the next morning, he learned he had won in an upset. It is said that the experts had predicted it wrong, but the country had faith in a fighter. Truman's victory caused an embarrassing event for the Illinois newspaper. Perhaps it was this headline that raised doubts in people's minds of how well newspapers actually check stories out before they print them.

Being one of the best papers in the country, this Tribune banner made people wonder if they could trust the accuracy of the newspaper. Confident of a Dewey presidential win, the Tribune had published the wrong headline, much to Truman's glee. As he held the paper for the photographers in St. Louis, he grinned and seemed to be saying that people should not believe everything they read in the papers. The "Dewey Defeats Truman" banner was truly the Chicago Daily Tribune's red-faced event.-[From: J. Durant and A. Durant, Pictorial History of American Presidents; student historian's interview with Z. Feed, Sept, 14,1996; A. Menning, "Farms, Cities Give Truman a Heavy Vote," Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 3, 1948; "The Missed Election," Life, Nov. 15, 1948; L. Wendt, Chicago Tribune.]


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