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John Steelman, chief of staff of President Harry Truman: 1943 ca. | by Washington Area Spark
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John Steelman, chief of staff of President Harry Truman: 1943 ca.

John Roy Steelman was first person to serve as "The Assistant to the President of the United States", in the administration of President Harry S. Truman from 1946 to 1953. The office later became the White House Chief of Staff.


Steelman joined the federal government in 1934 as a member of the United States Conciliation Service, which assisted in settling labor disputes, and later became the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (United States). After three years he became Commissioner of Conciliation where he served until 1944.


He returned to the federal government in 1945 as an assistant to President Harry S. Truman and was quickly elevated to what is now known as chief of staff.


In this role he refused to testify before Rep. Clare Hoffman’s House subcommittee investigating the cafeteria strike in Washington, D.C. despite a subpoena issued.


Hoffman decried his refusal, saying “If presidential advisers are exempt, then—my God!—he could have 50 of them down there. He has them in mobs Maybe all these GSI strikers are his advisors too.”


Steelman later said President Truman had ordered him not to attend.


For more information and related images, see


For a deep dive into the 1948 cafeteria workers strike, see


Photo by Royden Dixon. The image is courtesy of the Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection.

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Taken circa 1943