Public Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1950

Author: Harry S Truman  | Date: May 13, 1950

Rear Platform and Other Informal Remarks in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota.
May 13, 1950

[1.] FORT PECK DAM, MONTANA (8:38 a.m.)
Governor Bonnet, General Pick, ladies and gentlemen:

I have known General Pick for a long, long time. I knew him when he was engineer in charge down at Omaha. I knew him when he went to Burma and built the Lido Road, and I had the privilege of making him Chief of Engineers when he came back. I think he is one of the ablest men in public service.

We have paid a visit to the greatest concrete structure in the world—the greatest concrete dam that ever has been built, over in the State of Washington.

I made up my mind that I was going to come by and see the greatest earth construction in the flood control business that has ever been constructed in the world. I was in the Senate when this proposition was first considered, and there have been just as many misstatements and garbled stories about Fort Peck Dam as there have been about any of the other constructions for the welfare and benefit of the people of this part of the country.

I made up my mind I would come by and see just exactly what it looked like so I couldunderstand the statements that are sometimes made about it, and that is why I am here.

I should like to congratulate the Corps of Engineers and all the people who worked on this project on what has been accomplished here. Projects like Fort Peck have contributed to the welfare of the entire Nation. Fort Peck itself has helped prevent floods, has helped navigation downstream, and is producing great quantities of electricity.

We don’t have enough Fort Pecks, however, to give us the protection that we need. We still have serious floods in many sections of the country.

I am deeply concerned with the reports I have received about the floods in North Dakota and Minnesota, and about the recent floods in southeastern Nebraska. We need a great many more flood control projects before we can be safe from catastrophes like these.

In the 13 years since Fort Peck Dam was first put into operation, the benefits from its flood control features alone have been estimated at $50 million. I am told that this figure is the damage which the Missouri River Valley would have suffered from the floods if this project had not been built. Flood heights have been reduced as much as 3 feet downstream at Omaha.

Fort Peck has also helped navigation. During the war years, for example, the Fort Peck Reservoir supplied enough water to float landing craft, built at inland shipyards down the Mississippi.

Two years ago, when there was record low water on the Mississippi River, Fort Peck Dam made it possible to continue navigation on the river. Otherwise, river navigation might have been seriously hampered for several months.

Fort Peck is supplying power in North Dakota, Montana, and South Dakota. All told, when tied in with the other main stem projects now under construction, I understand that we can get 185,000 kilowatts from Fort Peck.

In addition, the reservoir behind the dam is becoming a great recreational center for this whole region. I am told that 90,000 people visited here last year, and camps for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and other groups are being built.

This is an example of how we get many different kinds of benefits from sensible planning and development of our natural resources. This shows that the funds we spend on flood control, reclamation, irrigation, and public power facilities are not expenses. They are investments in a bigger and better country.

People who criticize the Federal budget often overlook these facts.

When a manufacturing corporation builds a new factory, that is not just an expense, it is a capital expansion. The company may have to float a bond issue and go temporarily into debt. The board of directors of the company are willing to go into debt, because they know that they will more than get their money back as the company grows and produces more products.

Projects like Fort Peck are investments in the future of our country, just as a new factory is an investment in the future of a corporation. You should keep that fact in mind when you examine the Federal budget. We need more projects like Fort Peck. I just want to say a word to you about this great valley in which we landed yesterday—I guess it was about the time we left Butte and came over the Divide—we came into the drainage area that is known as the Missouri Valley.

The Missouri Valley is a tremendously rich valley, and in connection with the upper Mississippi Valley, north of Cairo, and theOhio Valley from Pittsburgh down, it is the greatest breadbasket in the world. It has difficulties to face in the form of flood control, communication, and transportation.

I have been exceedingly interested in the proper development of all these great river valleys. I was in the Columbia Valley the other day, and made some suggestions about proper procedure for developing that valley. I have made some suggestions about the Central Valley of California. I have made some suggestions about the Connecticut Valley in New England, and I have made some suggestions about some of the Southeastern rivers, and the Arkansas and Red Rivers in Texas and Oklahoma and Arkansas.

This Missouri Valley development is a three-way proposition. It is radically different from a great many of the other rivers in the country, for the reason that it has navigation to consider, it has flood control to consider, and the other power facilities, such as are at this dam. The flood control dam can also be used as a power facility, as you can see.

The difficulty with the Missouri River is from Sioux City to St. Louis. It is a mud river—carries more silt than any other river in the world. Even the Yangtze doesn’t carry any more silt than the Missouri. Mark Twain once said that in a wet season you could pour the water of the Missouri from one vessel to the other, if you pushed it and stirred it around enough.

I have seen dust storms rise up right out of the water of the Missouri River. You can’t understand that, but the reason is there is a sand bar out in the middle of the river, and when the wind blows, it comes right up out of the middle of the river.

What I want to do is create a situation for the development of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Valleys on the basis of the great Tennessee, and what I have suggested for the Columbia, but it has to be done in a different way, for we have a different project and proposition to look at.

Flood control is of vital importance to the Missouri River, from Sioux City to St. Louis. Now, in 3 years in that valley, due to floods, some $500 million worth of crops were destroyed. Five hundred million dollars properly spent would prevent that flood situation in the whole Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Valleys, and twice that much would accomplish the purpose which we have in view. And there have been in the last 10 years enough crop losses to have paid for the development of all three of those valleys.

I think I understand the situation, to some extent, for I spent most of my life on the Missouri down in Kansas City. Independence, rather—Kansas City is a suburb of Independence. I know something about how it happened, and I know something about what ought to be done to cure it.

Now, there is a reclamation proposition in the thing. There is a flood control proposition in the thing, and there is a navigation proposition in the whole setup. And Reclamation, and the Engineers, and all the other departments of the Government interested in this sort of development ought to cooperate to get it done. And if I can succeed in getting all those agencies to cooperate, and then get about 15 or 20 Governors of the States in the frame of mind to look after their interests, I think sometime or other we will get this job done as it ought to be done.

This is the first step out here. This is only the first step. Now let’s go ahead and finish the job, because it means the proper development of the great Mississippi Valley, and if the great Mississippi Valley doesn’t wake up and do its proper development, all these great developments in the other parts of thecountry are going to take the population, they are going to take all the industries, they are going to take everything we have.

And if we do the valleys of the Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri on the basis that they should be, we can look forward to the ability to support the immense populations which we will have in the year 2000 and 2050. That is what this generation should be looking after, and that is the idea I am trying to put over on this trip around the country.
I want to thank you very much.

[2.] GLASGOW, MONTANA (Rear platform, 9:25 a.m.)

We have a very short time to spend here, I am sorry, but I do appreciate this wonderful welcome we have had here.

I also appreciate most highly the privilege of having seen Fort Peck Dam, with the man who is in charge of it, the Chief of Engineers.

I have a recollection of this town of Glasgow, along about 1906 or 1907. I came up and registered for a claim on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. I didn’t get the claim, my number was about 59,000; but I enjoyed the trip, anyway.
I am glad to be back once more.

I appreciate again very much the cordiality of your reception here.

[3.] WILLISTON, NORTH DAKOTA (Rear platform, 12:15 p.m.)
Mr. Mayor, ladies and gentlemen:

It certainly is good to see you here in Williston. I am very glad to be in North Dakota today. This is my first visit to your State since I became President, and I am looking forward to a most pleasant day.

In the past few weeks, I have been very concerned about the floods which have been causing so much damage in North Dakota and Minnesota. These floods are a warning that we cannot stop or slow up our work of building flood control projects throughout this part of the country.

Early this morning, I visited Fort Peck Dam, and saw it in operation. Since Fort Peck has been finished, it is estimated that it has already prevented at least $50 million worth of flood damage. In addition to that, it has been providing power, and is storing water for use in irrigation.

I was told by the Chief of Engineers there this morning that Fort Peck Dam can hold all the flood waters of this whole season until July, when they would then be gradually released after all the lower floods were over.

We must build more projects like Fort Peck and Garrison Dam to prevent floods and to give us power and irrigation water.

I understand that there has been some concern around Williston that Garrison Dam will put Williston under water. I want to assure you that this concern is not warranted by the facts. The plan for Garrison Dam includes complete protection for Williston. It also protects the Lewis and Clark and Buford-Trenton irrigation areas. Otherwise I would not have approved it.

We have devised a system of levees and flood walls which will fully protect both this city and all the surrounding area, which is most important to the economic life of Williston.

I am familiar with the kind of levees and flood walls which will protect Williston. We have some of the same kind in Kansas City, Mo. Those levees and flood walls protected Kansas City from floods, and as a result the city has grown because new factories and new industries were willing to come there.

Garrison Dam is a sound investment which will pay big dividends in the future. It will supply electric power for farms and factories, for mines, and homes. It will encourageindustrial expansion. It will provide irrigation for water on farms.

This is a part of the work we are doing to build a stronger and more prosperous nation. We have a wonderful future in this country, if we will all keep on working hard and doing the progressive things that need to be done.

And we must build a better future for our country, for farmers, for workers, and for businessmen and everyone else. This is the greatest thing we need to do to achieve world peace.

It certainly has been grand to be here this morning, and what pleases me most is to see these signs around here. They look to me like you have been studying the situation and understand what we need.

I think when the people understand exactly what we are driving at, that there will be no difficulty in convincing them that we are right, and that we are working for the interests of all the ’people, and not just a few.

That is what I am out here for, trying to tell you why and what I am trying to do, and letting you make up your own minds. I am making a report on the state of the Nation to the public and to the people, and I am having a good time doing it. I don’t think I have ever had such a welcome or seen as many people—well, I would say not since 1948.
Thank you very much.

[4.] MINOT, NORTH DAKOTA (Rear platform, 4:20 p.m.)

Mr. Minor tells me he is a descendant of the founder of this town. That is a wonderful thing. I am most happy to be here today and have this opportunity to talk with you. The mayor also told me that this is the biggest crowd he has seen here. Now that is really something.

I have had a very fine trip across the country during the past week, during which I inspected Grand Coulee and Fort Peck Dams. These show what can be done to control our great river valleys, and how we can prevent disastrous floods like the ones that are causing so much damage here in North Dakota right now.

I have also been telling people where I stand on a number of important matters, such as our farm laws, labor and social security laws.

You know, the Government exists to help the people of this country live better lives and build for a more prosperous future. That is why we have set up a social security system. This system will not be complete until it provides security against the major economic hazards in life. We have made good progress in the last 17 years in providing protection against some of these hazards, such as unemployment or poverty during old age.

But there is another great hazard that every single one of us faces, where the Government has not yet lived up to its responsibility. That is the need for protection against ill health.

Here in Minot, you are very fortunate in having some wonderful hospitals and clinics. There are very, very few cities the size of Minot in the United States, particularly in the farming areas, that have the kind of medical care that you have here.

Throughout the United States we need more hospitals, more doctors, and more nurses. We are well on the road toward getting more hospitals in some parts of the country where they are most badly needed, but we are still a long way from training enough doctors and nurses.

Rural areas have an especially difficult time of it. More than one-third of the counties in the United States do not have a single full-time health officer. We need more local health centers, public health clinics, andhealth programs, such as chest X-rays for every part of the country. But the finest facilities in the world won’t help the family that can’t afford them.

Medical care costs a lot, and it is becoming more and more expensive everywhere. Too many people are going without medical care because they can’t afford it. If our families are going to have their chance at getting the kind of health services we know how to provide in this country, we must find some way of helping them foot the bill.

I first became interested in this problem of medical care when I was a county judge in Jackson County, Mo. I learned then that there is plenty of medical treatment for those who can pay for it. There is some medical care for those who can’t pay a nickel. But the man in between often has a hard time paying his health bills and his medical bills and his hospital bills.

There is a perfectly practical and sensible way to solve this problem. That is by setting up a health insurance plan.

Under this system, people would call their family doctor or go to a local hospital, just as they do today, but the doctor or the hospital would be paid out of insurance funds to which the patients had been contributing regularly. This is being done right now in many private health insurance plans, like the Blue Cross and the Blue Shield. I am very glad to see that private health insurance is moving forward rapidly. In fact, I think I have given it a kick.

But it is perfectly obvious that some way must be found to provide more complete protection and to pool insurance risks on a nationwide basis, if health insurance is to serve all our people, at a cost they can afford. That is what I have recommended.

A lot of people, who do not understand how the health insurance plan would work, have attacked it. I think they just don’t know the facts.

The health insurance plan would not put doctors on the public payroll. It would not nationalize any hospitals. It is simply the commonsense way to meet a serious problem, and I am going to continue to work for a broad nationwide health program. It is necessary to keep our country strong and healthy. It is necessary, just like broader social security, better housing, and better schools, and a better distribution of the natural resources of this country.

I think that the country is for the welfare and the benefit of all the people. If we stay strong, if we increase our economic strength, if we hold our military strength at a point where nobody will dare attack us, there is not a doubt in the world but we will eventually attain a world peace, which is what we pray for continually.

To do that—to accomplish that purpose-we must ourselves show the world that our way of life is better than any other way of life in the world. And I know we can all do that. That is what I want to show.

[5.] NEW ROCKFORD, NORTH DAKOTA, (Rear platform, 6:05 p.m.)

I deeply appreciate this fine greeting. You know, we have got a magnificent train here. We left the last stop, Minot, 24 minutes late, and if I am not mistaken we came here right on the second. I’ll say that engineer is all right.

I am glad my schedule takes me through North Dakota. I have been very deeply concerned by reports I have received about flood conditions along the James, the Heart, the Cannonball, and Red Rivers. A great many homes and farms have been seriously damaged, in some cases completely destroyed. Now we have got to prevent these devastating floods. We can’t sit still and let nature take its course, any more than we can sit still and let the economic cycle of"boom and bust" take its course.

The General Services Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation have been working here in North Dakota, along with the State and local agencies, to check disastrous floods. The entire Sheyenne River Valley would have been seriously flooded if Baldhill Reservoir had not been in operation during this spring season. Even though Baldhill is not fully completed, the existing dam stored half of the flood waters from the basin above the

Baldhill Reservoir saved Valley City, 12 miles downstream from the dam. I have been told that it prevented flood damages of probably half a million dollars in Valley City alone. Likewise, I have been told that the construction of Heart Butte Dam saved the city of Mandan.

These are examples of what can be done to overcome floods. In other sections of the country, such as down in the Tennessee Valley, for example, we have a sufficient number of flood control projects so as to eliminate nearly all danger of floods. We need more great coordinated programs like that in other parts of the country. Those projects are worth many times their cost. They are not an expenditure, they are an investment.

I said this morning at the Fort Peck Dam that proper flood control in the Missouri Valley over the last 7 or 8 years would have saved the farmers along in that river valley more than $600 million; and the whole project itself would have cost less than that. Now, if that is not a good investment, I really don’t know what an investment is.

Of course, right now it is too late to do anything about the present floods, except to help the stricken areas. We must take care of those who have lost their homes, and had their farms flooded. We must rebuild roads and bridges that have been washed out.

I know you are doing this right now, and the Red Cross is helping out. I have asked all the Federal agencies to help out in every way they can, and I hope they are doing so. In response to a request from the Governor of North Dakota, I have allocated $250,000 from the small emergency fund I have available.

But relieving the distress is not enough. We must plan for the future. We should make plans to store flood waters in reservoirs along all of these rivers and streams, in order to avoid future destruction, and to put the water to good uses. It should be used to irrigate dry land, to generate electric power, and to add to local water supplies.

All these things can be done in a way which will protect the people of North Dakota in the future, and will bring additional prosperity to your State.

I have enjoyed being here with you in New Rockford, and I hope that you and your neighbors in North Dakota will join me in the efforts to make this State—and our Nation—a better place in which to live.

I don’t think I have had a more cordial welcome anywhere on the trip than I have had since I came into North Dakota. The people have been anxious to hear what I have to say. They have been most cordial to me. I can’t tell you how very much I appreciate it.

[6.] FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA (Address, 9 p.m., see Item 130).

[7.] BRECKENRIDGE, MINNESOTA (Rear platform, 11 p.m.)

I am glad to be back here in Minnesota once more. I had a grand time here about 2 years ago, when I was running for office.

During the past week I have traveled across the great plains and the Rocky Mountains nearly to the Pacific coast, and backagain through Montana and North Dakota. I have been reporting on what the Government is doing and how it is working with your State and local governments to build a better America. In the last few days I have been talking particularly about reclamation and flood control.

What has been happening this last month in northern Minnesota, in North Dakota, and in Canada, proves the necessity of our going ahead with flood control projects on a national basis.

North of here, along the Red River, a great many cities and towns have been overrun by devastating floods. The Army, the National Guard, State governments, the Red Cross, and other agencies are all working together to relieve the distress. I have allocated $150,000 from the President’s emergency fund to help restore some of the damage done by these floods in Minnesota. I have a very small emergency fund, and I have given you all I can.

But relief after floods have come does not help much more than locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen. These tragic floods bring home to all of us how important it is to prevent costly floods in the future. I have been glad to see your own Senator Humphrey taking the lead in working for flood control projects. And he happens to be on the train with me tonight.

Unfortunately, there are always some people who are afraid to plan for the future. Every time the Federal Government looks very far ahead, some of our opponents will yell it costs too much, we have got to cut the budget. And they have been trying to cut my budgets ever since I have been President. They always come up with a little more than I ask them to give me on a subject that I am not interested in, but they try to cut the things that help the country.

I happen to know that some people have tried to say that to Senator Humphrey, but I am glad to know that he doesn’t pay any attention to these cries of false economy. I am proud to say that he knows that a few dollars spent on flood control today will save a great many dollars in the future, not to mention homes, farms, industries, and even lives.

The same thing goes for all of our domestic and international programs. Some people cry that we should cut down on education, housing, and health. I say that this is the worst form of false economy. A few dollars spent here will pay rich investments in the future in building a higher standard of living, and a stronger Nation.

The economizers—they are not really economizers, they are anti-Trumanites-also cry that we must stop spending money on our national defenses and stop sending money abroad. This, too, is another form of false economy. It is going to be difficult and expensive—make no mistake about to get the world back on the road to peace. But the expense is nothing at all compared with the catastrophe of a third world war. We have got to make sure that for every dollar we spend we get a dollar’s worth of value. We have to have true economy by making sure we don’t spend money on anything we don’t actually have to have.

But we can’t stand false economy if we are going to succeed in building a stronger United States and a peaceful world.

Now, I have been spending my time since Japan folded up in September 1945, trying to get a peaceful world. I have done everything I possibly can, and those who have been with me in the Cabinet have done everything possible, to obtain peace in the world.

Now, to obtain peace in the world, the United States must remain strong itself. In order to remain strong, we must have anational defense establishment which is strong enough to meet the aggressors. We must have an economic setup that is strong enough to keep the country prosperous. That’s all in the world I am working for.

I took this trip around the country just to explain to the people exactly what I am trying to do and what the Government is trying to do to obtain peace, and to maintain that strong economy.

You know, the Constitution provides that the President of the United States once a year goes down and speaks to the Congress on the state of the Union. Well now, what I have done since I left Washington a week ago—it will be a week tomorrow—I have been facing the people and giving the people a message on the state of the Union, and what I think will be best for the welfare of this country, and what I think will contribute to peace in the world.

I am here for that purpose, and I want you to see what I look like, and I want you to understand that I am not running for office. I ran for office in 1948, and had right good luck. I am merely reporting to you as the head of the Government, and as your servant. The President and the Vice President are the only men in the United States who are elected at large by the whole people of the United States, and I think it is right and proper that a report should be made to you every so often, personally, by the man who is responsible for carrying on the executive branch of the Government.

I can’t tell you how very much I appreciate this wonderful and cordial reception into Minnesota. This sort of reception has met me everywhere—at Galesburg, Ill., in Ottumwa, Iowa, in Lincoln, Nebr., in Casper, Wyo., in Pendleton, Oreg., and Grand Coulee Dam, Wash.—Butte and Great Falls, Mont., Minot, N. Dak. And at Fargo, N. Dak., just a while ago, they told me that they had the biggest crowd that Fargo had ever had in its history. And it looked to me like all the people in North Dakota were there.

Now here I have come into Minnesota, almost at midnight, and it looks to me as if everybody in this great State of Minnesota is here. They tell me there are more people up ahead of the train than there are behind it. I appreciate that more than I can tell you, and I am more than happy to have your Senator Humphrey with me on the train tonight. Thank you very much.

I am sorry that I can’t present to you Mrs. Truman and Margaret. They have had a most terrific day, and they had to go to bed.

NOTE: In the course of his remarks on May 13 the President referred to, among others, Governor John Woodrow Bonnet of Montana, Maj. Gen. Lewis A. Pick of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota.


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Chicago: Harry S Truman, "129 Rear Platform and Other Informal Remarks in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota.," Public Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1950 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Harry S Truman, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.763-764 392–399. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2023,

MLA: Truman, Harry S. "129 Rear Platform and Other Informal Remarks in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota." Public Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1950, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Harry S Truman, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.763-764, pp. 392–399. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Truman, HS, '129 Rear Platform and Other Informal Remarks in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota.' in Public Papers of Harry S. Truman, 1950. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Harry S Truman, 1950 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.763-764, pp.392–399. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2023, from