President Truman holding an early edition of the November 4, 1948 Chicago Daily Tribune showing the erroneous presidential election headline

"Dewey Defeats Truman" was an incorrect banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Daily Tribune (later Chicago Tribune) on November 3, 1948, the day after incumbent United States president Harry S. Truman won an upset victory over his opponent, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, in the 1948 presidential election. It was famously held up by Truman at a stop at St. Louis Union Station following his successful election, smiling triumphantly at the error.[1]


The Chicago Daily Tribune, which had once referred to Democratic candidate Truman as a "nincompoop", was a famously Republican-leaning paper.[2] In a retrospective article some 60 years later about the newspaper's most famous and embarrassing headline, the Tribune wrote that Truman "had as low an opinion of the Tribune as it did of him".[3]

For about a year before the 1948 election, the printers who operated the linotype machines at the Chicago Tribune and other Chicago papers had been on strike in protest of the Taft–Hartley Act. Around the same time, the Tribune had switched to a method by which copy was composed on typewriters, photographed, then engraved onto printing plates. This required the paper to go to press several hours earlier than usual.[1]

Election of 1948

Main article: 1948 United States presidential election

On election night, this earlier press deadline required the first post-election issue of the Tribune to go to press before states had reported most of the results from the polling places.

The paper relied on its veteran Washington correspondent and political analyst Arthur Sears Henning, who had predicted the winner in four of the five presidential contests since 1928. As conventional wisdom, supported by various polls, was almost unanimous that Dewey would win by a landslide, the first (one-star) edition of the Tribune therefore went to press with the banner headline "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN".[1]

The story by Henning[4] also reported Republicans had retained control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which would work with President-elect Dewey. Henning wrote that "Dewey and Warren won a sweeping victory in the presidential election yesterday. The early returns showed the Republican ticket leading Truman and Barkley pretty consistently in the western and southern states" and added that "indications were that the complete returns would disclose that Dewey won the presidency by an overwhelming majority of the electoral vote".[5]

As returns began to indicate a close race later in the evening, Henning brushed them off and stuck to his prediction. Thousands of papers continued to roll off the presses with the banner headline predicting a Dewey victory.

Even after the paper's lead story was rewritten to emphasize local elections and to indicate the narrowness of Dewey's lead in the presidential contest, the same banner headline was left on the front page. Only late in the evening, after press dispatches cast doubt upon the certainty of Dewey's victory, did the Tribune change the headline to "DEMOCRATS MAKE SWEEP OF STATE OFFICES" for the later two-star edition. Some 150,000 copies had already been printed with the erroneous headline before it was corrected.[3]

Truman, as it turned out, won the electoral vote with a 303–189–39 majority over Dewey and Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond, though swings of less than one percent of the popular vote in Ohio, Illinois, and California would have produced a Dewey victory; the same swing in any two of these states would have forced a contingent election in the House of Representatives.[6]

Instead of a Republican sweep of the White House and retention of both houses of Congress, the Democrats retained the White House and took control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.[7][8]


Two days later, when Truman was passing through St. Louis on the way to Washington, he stepped to the rear platform of his train car, the Ferdinand Magellan, and was handed a copy of the Tribune early edition. Happy to exult in the paper's error, he held it up for the photographers gathered at the station, and the famous picture (in several versions) was taken.[3] Truman reportedly smiled and said, "That ain't the way I heard it!"[9]

Tribune publishers could laugh about the blunder years later and had planned to give Truman a plaque with a replica of the erroneous banner headline on the 25th anniversary of the 1948 election. However, Truman died on December 26, 1972, before the gift could be bestowed.[1][10]

The Tribune was not the only paper to make the mistake. The Journal of Commerce had eight articles in its edition of November 3 about what could be expected of President Dewey. The paper's five-column headline read, "Dewey Victory Seen as Mandate to Open New Era of Government-Business Harmony, Public Confidence".[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Wendt, Lloyd (December 10, 2013) [1979]. Chicago Tribune: The rise of a great American newspaper. Chicago: Rand McNally. pp. 680–684. ISBN 978-0528818264 – via Books.
  2. ^ Critcher Lyons, Reneé (2016). "The Second Shall Be First". Wayland, Massachusetts: National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. Archived from the original on December 8, 2023. Retrieved December 8, 2023. Yes, Harry S Truman, incumbent president from Independence, Missouri, son of a mule-trader turned farmer, had whipped the arrogant, press-courting governor from New York, Thomas E. Dewey. He won by over two million (that's 2,000,000) votes, despite the fact that only 15 percent of the nation's newspapers supported his campaign. Prior to the election, the Chicago Tribune referred to President Truman as a "nincompoop," and The New York Times wrote, "The [Democratic] Party might as well immediately concede the election to Dewey and save the wear-and-tear of campaigning." Magazines were just as bad. Time Magazine proclaimed, "Barring a political miracle, it was the kind of ticket that could not fail to sweep the Republican Party back into power." Newsweek published election opinions from fifty highly respected political reporters; all fifty predicted Truman would lose. Life Magazine even ran a cover of Dewey with the caption "The Next President of the United States." As for the topsy-turvy results reported by the Chicago Tribune, it became the most famous mistaken headline in our nation's history!
  3. ^ a b c Jones, Tim (December 19, 2007). "Dewey defeats Truman". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on December 8, 2023. Retrieved November 9, 2008.
  4. ^ "Chicago Tribune's headline draws laugh from Barkley". Zanesville Signal. November 3, 1948. p. 1.
  5. ^ "Dewey Defeats Truman". Chicago Tribune. November 3, 1948. p. 1.
  6. ^ Leip, David (2019). "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Elections, LLC. Archived from the original on December 8, 2023. Retrieved October 7, 2015 – via[user-generated source?]
  7. ^ "Election of 1948: Dewey Does (not) Defeat Truman". Retrieved October 7, 2015.
  8. ^ Graf, William; Roberts, Ralph R. (March 1, 1949). "Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 2, 1948" (PDF). Washington: United States Government Printing Office. 85130. Archived (PDF) from the original on December 8, 2023. Retrieved October 6, 2015.
  9. ^ Phelan, Catherine (November 3, 2017). "On This Day: Infamous "Dewey Defeats Truman" Newspaper Hits Newsstands". The Archive. Archived from the original on December 8, 2023.
  10. ^ "Years Mellowed Breach Between Paper, Truman". San Antonio Light. December 27, 1972. p. 11.
  11. ^ "The JoC: 175 Years of Change". The Journal of Commerce. Archived from the original on July 6, 2007.