All the President’s Tables: Harry S. Truman’s 1949 Inaugural Luncheon

truman-inaugural-luncheon-2Like Lyndon Johnson, Harry S. Truman first became president after the death of an incumbent president. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Truman took the oath of office in a subdued and quiet ceremony in the White House.

truman-1949-inaugurationThe 1949 inauguration, on the other hand, presented an entirely different story. To begin with, the Republicans, believing that popular New York governor Thomas E. Dewey would win, allocated $80,000 toward the inaugural ceremonies. The grandstand alone cost $189,000. Other costs quickly ate up the funding: $29,000 for the gala inaugural ball, $3,950 for fireworks, and $7,600 for commemorative medals and other souvenirs. Add television to this extravagant posturing of American power and pride; Truman’s was the first televised inauguration. Don’t forget that American power and might demolished the Nazi war machine after four grueling years of horrific war. And American science, with a little help from German scientists, created the A-bomb, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing a quick and controversial end to the brutal war in the Pacific.

Truman also stated that, for the first time, African Americans were to attend the inauguration freely and allowed to stay in area hotels. This was ironic, since many of the White House staff were, and always had been, African Americans.

Alonzo Fields, Chief Butler
Alonzo Fields, Chief Butler

Take Alonzo Fields for example.

Alonzo Fields acted as White House Chief Butler from 1933-1953, ending his service under the Truman administration. One of his responsibilities was designing menus, one of which he served to the President and his military advisors on the eve of the war with Korea.

truman-alonzo-fieldsFields wrote My 21 Years in the White House, possibly the last book to reveal the secrets of the inner sanctum. The Truman Library describe the collection papers as follows: “The collection includes many menus for meals hosted by the Trumans and records of the costs of running the White House kitchen. Included are menus that were approved by Harry, Bess, or Margaret Truman, which is noted by the writing on them. The menus are from luncheons, state dinners, and Cabinet dinners. Some of the individuals for whom dinners were prepared included Princess Elizabeth of England, the Prime Minister of Sweden, the Chancellor of Austria, Prince Charles, the Regent of Belgium, and the Queen and Prince of the Netherlands. Some of the menus include changes made by the Trumans and comments about their guests. With the menus, Fields has included his comments about the meal and memories of the events. There are also weekly menus from September, 1950 for the White House employees, who were provided with breakfast and lunch.”

Truman White House China
Truman White House China

It’s not sure whether or not Fields wrote the menu for the inaugural lunch for President Truman, hosted by Secretary of State Leslie Biffle in the Capitol reception room:

South-Carolina Turkey
Smithfield Ham

Potato Salad
Pumpkin Pie


© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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