Category Archives: Truman Library

The Flag Over Kon-Tiki

Where:  The Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.  

Kon Tiki flag

Photo: Truman Library

Sometimes the back story is as good as the one we know.

In 1947, Norwegian adventurer, ethnologist and future Academy Award-winning director Thor Heyerdahl set sail across the Pacific in a small, balsawood raft that carried with it the flags and support of several nations, including the United States.  He called the raft Kon-Tiki, after an Incan sun god, and set sail that spring from Peru to the Polynesian Islands, some 4,000 miles away.

He wanted to prove that a primitive raft such as his could make the journey, and that the islands of the South Pacific could have been settled by early South American Indians travelling on similar rafts.

Upon his successful return from the expedition, President Truman invited Heyerdahl tothe White House where he presented Truman with the American flag that had flown over Kon-Tiki.  Almost as an afterthought, Truman asked if he could have the Norwegian flag as well. Heyerdahl agreed and sent the Norwegian flag later.

Now for the back story.  A number of years ago, there was a movement afloat in Norway to have Kon-Tiki’s Norwegian flag returned to Norway so that it could be placed in the expedition’s official museum in Oslo.  Heyerdahl stepped in before his death in 2002 and personally stopped the movement, maintaining that he presented it to President Truman as a token of Norwegian-American cooperation and friendship, and that the flag should remain at the Truman Library.

Call the Truman Library for hours.


Samurai Sword

Samurai Sword

Photo: Truman Library

Where:  The Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.  

Just a few months into his presidency, President Harry S. Truman was presented a gift so rare that only ten of them are known to exist in the world – a samurai sword made by Masamune, a legendary sword smith from the Sagami Province of Japan.  The swords are considered national treasures in Japan, according to Clay Bauske, curator at the Harry S. Truman Library.

“While most objects in the Truman Library museum collection date from mid-20th Century America, some have deep significance to other cultures and other times,” says Bauske.  “The Masamune sword is an example.  Although we deal specifically with a 20th Century president, through the gifts he received, we are exposed to a much wider world of historical traditions and cultural materials.”

Masamune worked nearly 750 years ago fabricating blades of high workmanship.  The tang of the blade on this sword has gold, inlaid characters that indicate the sword was authenticated by a representative of the Japanese emperor in the 16th Century.  The disks on the handle are bronze covered in gold; the black scabbard signifies formality.

The sword was presented to President Truman on March 4, 1946 in the Oval Office by General Walter Krueger, commander of the 6th Army occupation forces in Japan following the Second World War.  General Kreuger was given the sword by a Samurai family in Japan.

Find out more about the Truman Library here.