COMMERCE BANCSHARES, INC. RECORDS
The records of Commerce Bancshares, Inc. relate to the employment of Harry S. Truman and his brother, J. Vivian Truman, as clerks at the National Bank of Commerce in Kansas City. The Truman brothers worked at the bank from 1903 to 1905, and Vivian worked there again briefly in 1907. The records include their employment applications, letters of recommendation from acquaintances, and a supervisor's evaluations of their work at the bank. Also included are a few inventories of the records, compiled from around 1971 to 1999.
Size: Less than one-half of one linear foot (about 50 pages).
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The National Bank of Commerce was located in the Journal Building at the intersection of Tenth and Walnut Streets in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The Journal Building burned in 1906 and was replaced by what is today called the Commerce Tower.
Founded in 1865 as the Kansas City Savings Association, the National Bank of Commerce grew to become the largest bank in the United States west of Chicago by 1890. One of the directors of the National Bank of Commerce when the Truman brothers worked there was William T. Kemper, a prominent Kansas City businessman and a friend of their father, John Anderson Truman. Under the leadership of the Kemper family, the Commerce Bank has remained a major financial institution in the Midwest for more than a century. Commerce Bancshares, Inc. is the corporation that owns the bank today.
The records of Commerce Bancshares, Inc. document the employment of Harry S. Truman and his brother, J. Vivian Truman, as clerks at the National Bank of Commerce in Kansas City. Harry Truman was a couple of weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday when he applied for work at the bank on April 24, 1903. On his employment application, he stated that "theaters and reading" were his principal forms of recreation, and that he typically spent his evenings and Sundays "at home." Asked if he had any extravagant tastes or habits, he wrote, "Don't think so." Two family friends submitted letters to the bank attesting to his good character. Hired as a clerk, Truman was soon put in charge of the filing vault. Periodically, a senior official at the bank, Charles H. Moore, asked Truman's supervisor, A. D. Flintom, for an evaluation of his progress. "Truman . . . is an exceptionally bright young man and is keeping the work up in the vault better than it has ever been kept," Flintom reported to Moore on April 14, 1904. "We never had a boy in the vault like him before. He watches everything very closely and by his watchfulness, detects many errors which a careless boy would let slip through. His appearance is good and his habits and character are of the best." Flintom amplified his praise in his report of September 28, 1904: "I do not know of a better young man in the bank than Trueman [sic]."
Vivian Truman was only seventeen when he applied for work at the bank on June 8, 1903. Apparently, he did not take to the work as his older brother had. In reporting on his progress on July 27, 1904, Flintom stated that Vivian was "a willing worker but possessed of very little ability and will never amount to much as a bank clerk. He is a very different boy from his brother who runs our filing vault." In a subsequent evaluation, dated December 14, 1904, Flintom reported that Vivian was a good worker but "writes a miserable hand" and "appears to be without ambition."
The Truman brothers worked at the National Bank of Commerce until March 15, 1905, when they quit in order to help their parents move from Kansas City to a farm near Clinton, Missouri. On April 3, 1905, Harry Truman again applied for employment at the bank and was promptly rehired. On his employment application, he stated that his family was "depending on me to help meet expenses." Only six weeks later, on May 15 or 16 of 1905, Truman quit again, this time to accept a similar job for higher pay at the Union National Bank in Kansas City. (At the National Bank of Commerce, he had started out at $20 a month in 1903 and was making $40 a month when he left.) Vivian Truman also returned to the National Bank of Commerce for a brief time. He was rehired in March 1907 but quit for good only a month later.
In addition to the employment applications, letters of recommendation, and supervisor's evaluations mentioned above, the records include a few other items relating to the employment of the Truman brothers at the bank, as well as inventories of the records that were prepared at various times. Photocopies of the records were donated to the Truman Library in 1971 and were made available to researchers as part of the Miscellaneous Historical Documents Collection (MHDC No. 308 and No. 309). In 1999, Commerce Bancshares, Inc. deposited the original records at the Truman Library. A few original records that were photocopied for the Library in 1971 have apparently not survived; the collection includes photocopies of those documents, transferred from the MHDC.
More information about Harry S. Truman's career as a bank clerk in Kansas City can be found in the Harry S. Truman Papers: President's Secretary's Files: Biographical File, in a folder entitled "Autobiographical Sketch." Truman's recollections of his experiences during this period have been published in his Memoirs: Year of Decisions (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1955), and in Robert H. Ferrell, ed., The Autobiography of Harry S. Truman (Boulder, Col.: Colorado Associated University Press, 1980).