Stockholm: Svenska Dagbladets, 10 January 1952. Photograph. This original press photo captures Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill and President Harry S. Truman aboard the Presidential yacht Williamsburg on 5 January 1952. The gelatin silver print on glossy photo paper measures 6 x 8 in (15.3 x 20.3 cm). Condition is very good. The paper is clean and crisp with sharp corners save the lower right which has a crease in the margins, some light cockling, and minor scuffing to the surface visible only under raking light. The verso bears an obscured copyright stamp, a stamp of the Svenska Dagbladets Bild-Arkiv (Svenska Dagbladets is a Stockholm daily newspaper, and bild-arkiv translates to photo archive), and an original typed caption. The caption is titled “MR. CHURCILLL MEETS PRESIDENT TRUMAN ABOARD PRESIDENTIAL YACHT” and dated “10.1.52”. Of note the date is incorrect; Churchill’s official biographer definitively places him aboard the Williamsburg with President Truman on 5 January. The caption text reads “Churchill and President Truman stand at the mantle in the President’s lounge aboard the Presidential yacht, Williamsburg, where they had talks shortly after Mr. Churchill’s arrival in America. The painting in background shows the U.S. frigate Constitution battling the British H.M.S. Java, a frigate, off Brazil on Dec. 29, 1812.” This photograph is housed in protective mylar within a rigid, crimson cloth folder.
Harry S. Truman had become president on 12 April 1945 following the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the last months of WWII. His presidency was bookended by Churchill’s premierships. Only three and a half months later – in the midst of the Potsdam Conference with Truman and Stalin, Churchill was forced to resign his wartime premiership on 26 July 1945 after a landslide General Election victory for Labour. In the waning days of Truman’s presidency, Churchill returned to the premiership on 26 October 1951 after a General Election victory for his Conservative Party. General Dwight Eisenhower was elected President little more than a year later, on 4 November 1952, and took office on 20 January 1953.
In January of 1952 Churchill made his first official visit to the United States since his resumption of the premiership with the explicit goal of reinforcing the special relationship between the US and Britain. At a news conference before his departure Churchill explained, “Our two governments must understand each other’s points of view and do all we can to work together for the common cause.” (BBC, 5 January 1952) Churchill reached New York aboard the Queen Mary on 4 January and, on 5 January “From New York, Churchill flew in the President’s plane to Washington, where he was greeted at the airport by President Truman. That night they dined together on board the Presidential yacht Williamsburg.”
There were certainly serious issues discussed that evening, including the nature of NATO military defense integration, British trade with China, the Korean War, and control of the Suez Canal. Nonetheless, Dean Acheson later recalled a moment of jocularity over dinner. Churchill sought to compare the volume of the Williamsburg’s dining saloon to the estimated volume of “vinous and spiritous liquors” consumed by the Prime Minister over his lifetime to date to the end of determining if “all this liquid were poured into the dining saloon, how high would it rise? His vast disappointment when, instead of drowning us all in champagne and brandy, the flood came only up to our knees provided the high point of the performance.” (Gilbert, VIII, p.675) The taking of this photograph provided another amusing anecdote. As the caption on this photo notes, the painting behind the leaders depicts a British and an American ship in battle during the War of 1812. Rear Admiral Robert Dennison pointed out the possible issue to which Churchill replied, “Young man, that was many years ago. Go ahead and take your picture.” This comment amused the President and his reaction was captured in this photograph. Item #005578