Perhaps it is the most famous election-day photo of them all, though it was actually taken two days after the election, with President Harry S. Truman holding up a copy of the November 3, 1948, Chicago Daily Tribune.
As he noted in his memoir, Truman had a ham sandwich, a glass of milk, and went to bed early on election night, November 2, 1948. Although he had expressed confidence in a victory in the preceding days, the presidential election of 1948 was anything but predictable. The polls taken weeks before had indicated that New York governor Thomas Dewey would sweep the election and move into the White House on Inauguration Day 1949.
Biographer William Hillman notes that the president did not take much stock in the polls, however. After the summer 1948 Republican convention, Truman said, “The nomination of Dewey last night I think will make the campaign easier—all he can do is to make a ‘warmed-over’ approach to the situation with which the country is faced and I don’t think the country is going to take a ‘warmed-over’ approach.”.
Taking his campaign to the people, Truman ignored the predictions and went about to win the election. Biographer Bert Cochran writes:
Here were all the polls predicting an overwhelming Republican victory, their results repeated as gospel by all the pressmen and broadcasters, bookies giving odds of 15 and 20 to 1, some of his own Cabinet members negotiating surreptitiously for new jobs after the election—and through it all he moved unruffled, self-confident, assured, his cheerfulness intact, his nerve unimpaired, a sixty-four-year-old man with the steady energy of a commission salesman, the aplomb and brashness of a riverboat gambler. No one knew whether he was the supreme actor or mad enough to think that he could win
The hubris attached to press predictions and to the Dewey camp was given its reward as the election night results rolled in, with the president taking an early lead and never relinquishing it. Many still thought—and said as much on the evening’s broadcasts—that the night would turn itself over in the direction of the Dewey camp. It never happened. While false predictions over the radio waves were soon forgotten, the moment captured in the photograph of President Truman smiling and raising the spurious headline has served election cycles for more than sixty years–a reminder to all parties not to count their political chickens prematurely.
—Warren Perry, Catalog of American Portraits, National Portrait Gallery
Harry Truman, Memoirs, vol. 2: Years of Trial and Hope (New York: Doubleday, 1956).
William Hillman, Harry S. Truman: In His Own Words (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1952).
Bert Cochran, Harry Truman and the Crisis Presidency (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Press, 1973).