Jumping the gun is never a pleasant thing. Hillary supporters who bought champagne on the eve of the 2016 election knew this. So do the companies that invested $120 million in the failed Juicero start-up, the people who pre-bought No Man’s Sky and the 1948 staff of The Chicago Daily Tribune.
The first presidential election after World War II, you see, seemed to be a doozy. Incumbent Harry S. Truman had only come into the role after his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, died of old age while in office, leaving Truman to drop an atomic bomb on Japan and deal with the fallout (literally and figuratively) of a post-war world.
It wasn’t easy. A country that had manufactured urgently for nearly half a decade of manufacturing emergency was now facing a period of idleness, as factories used for bombs and planes and guns downsized, creating labor unrest and weakening the economy as prices inflated.
His opponent, Republican Thomas E. Dewey, seemed far more charismatic and popular. He’d been very narrowly defeated in the last election of FDR. A District Attorney in New York City who tirelessly pursed big-name Mafia mobsters, he was well-loved among working Americans, middle-classers and rich sponsors alike.
Arthur Sears Henning, a grizzled old political correspondent that had predicted four races correctly thus far, said it with confidence: Truman is toast.
However, as he and the staff of his newspaper would soon find out, it was not meant to be.
For the Tribune, it was the perfect storm. The paper’s printers were on strike with the labor unrest, leaving the presses understaffed. The paper had also switched up its print and layout process, a tactical error in an election year that delayed the operation even more. Dewey’s victory seemed assured, so it was in the Tribune’s best interest to send the (seemingly) sure victory to print at midafternoon on Election Day.
Dewey’s assured victory was printed in bold letters on the front page, and some 150,000 odd copies were distributed throughout the early evening streets of Chicago before some of the polling numbers, which rolled in later that night, began to present some doubts to the experts—and the editors.
By the time it was clear that Truman had managed to tip the swing states, snag 49 percent of the popular vote to Dewey’s 45 percent and flood the cabinet with his Democrat allies in what is considered to be one of the greatest upsets in American history, it was too late. Though the morning’s edition of The Tribune read “Democrats make sweep of state offices,” the damage had been done in the form of 150,000 copies floating around the city.
While the internet wasn’t around to immortalize the blunder in the form of memes, Truman was—when he visited The Windy City two days later on his victory lap, someone handed him a copy of the ill-printed gaffe. The image of a laughing Truman holding aloft the headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” is forever immortalized as a reminder of both arrogance and overeagerness.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, readers. Stay informed, and stay weird.
Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.