Medical History of President Harry Truman Reviews the ills of America's 33rd President. His thick glasses may have been a result of a childhood infection.
From the site:
Truman developed diphtheria in 1894 at age 10. He was paralyzed for several months and had to be wheeled around in a baby carriage. Diphtheria antitoxin was unavailable then, so he was treated with ipecac and whiskey. He developed a severe distaste for both.
As a child, Truman was diagnosed with a rare eye problem, "flat eyeballs." He wore thick glasses beginning at age eight, after his mother noticed he was able to see the large print in the family Bible, but unable to see objects at a distance. It has been said that Truman was far-sighted (which fits with the flat eyeballs diagnosis), but this pattern of visual acuity is characteristic of near-sightedness.
The issue is interesting because one possible cause of far-sightedness in young people is diphtheria. Diphtheria can paralyze the ciliary muscle, the muscle that allows the eye to focus close in.
Most biographers say Truman wore glasses before he contracted diphtheria. But Truman's son-in-law states that the diphtheria attack left him with the eye problem.
Whatever the true nature and cause of Truman's visual impairment, his hopes as a high school student of entering the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were dashed by his poor eyesight.