Truman's first term in the Senate (1935-41) was not highlighted by any
marked accomplishments. He served on Senator Burton D. Wheeler's committee
investigating railroads, and with Wheeler's guidance, gained modest fame as
an able investigator and cross-examiner.
Although Truman probably did not realize it at the time, his path to the White House was fixed at the start of his second Senate term. As a result of letters from friends and his own investigations revealing waste and graft in many national defense projects, he introduced a resolution for creation of a Senate committee to act as "watchdog" of the rearmament program. In 1941, when the Special Senate Committee to investigate the National Defense Program was established at the beginning of his second term, he was named chairman.
The Truman committee did an excellent and impartial job. It exposed grafting contractors, revealed collusion between corporation agents and certain Army officials, and urged more comprehensive planning for conduct of the war and for postwar reconstruction. It is estimated that the committee saved the government billions of dollars. This investigation first made the previously obscure Missourian, a national figure.