I always knew Herbert Hoover as the president in office when the Great Depression hit in 1929.
Apparently, he was quite the humanitarian. He spent years working to end poverty and help people around the world.
As a small boy in Iowa, he had the Quaker beliefs toward service to others instilled in him.
These beliefs stayed with him as an adult, when he worked to address hunger and poverty issues around the world.
Hoover was elected as the 31st president of the United States. The Republican from West Branch, Iowa, has his presidential library and museum in this small community.
The museum covers Hoover’s childhood to his post-presidency endeavors.
He seems to have been a decent and honorable person. He sought the best for his country, and the world.
He developed a love for fishing as a child that would stay with him long after leaving the White House.
He lost both parents by the age 10. He moved to Oregon to live with an uncle.
He was among the first students to attend Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. He met his future wife Lou there.
Following his college career, his professional life took him overseas. He worked as a geologist in Australia. Later, he relocated to China to work in the mining industry. Nicknamed “The Chief” during his overseas experience, the name stuck with him.
The Hoovers were in China during the Boxer rebellion. It was the start of anti-western feeling in China at the time; the Hoovers were shot at often.
They eventually relocated to London. They lived there for a few years, continuing their international travels related to the mining business.
As World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, Hoover was called into public service to help get some of the more than 120,000 fellow Americans home safely. He later said this was the moment he realized he would never be an engineer again; that his public service life had started.
Belgium was the primary focus of Hoover’s major accomplishment during the war. Belgians were starving as their nation was essentially trapped between the Allied and the Axis armies. The country relied on imports for the vast majority of their food.
Hoover led the relief effort. The Commission for the Relief of Belgium (CRB) basically operated as its own entity, maintaining self-sufficient navy, mills, factories and railroads. The CRB even had its own flag.
Hoover was accused of being a German spy by the British. The Germans tossed out members of the CRB during their work.
However, the CRB and Hoover saved the lives of about 10 million Belgians.
President Woodrow Wilson asked Hoover to lead the US Food Administration in 1917.
Following WWI, Hoover led the American Relief Administration’s efforts to help fight hunger in the Soviet Union.
During the 1920s, people urged him to run for president. In a bit of irony, one of his neighbors strongly supported Hoover’s candidacy for president – Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR would unseat Hoover president in 1932.
As Hoover enjoyed popularity during the 1920s, the United States had a bit of a boom itself.
Charles Lindbergh made his famous flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Paris. Babe Ruth enjoyed his time as the best baseball player.
The automobile enjoyed a time of growth. Chain stores started popping up around the country.
In 1923, President Warren Harding died in office. Vice-President Calvin Coolidge assumed the presidency.
Hoover had accepted the position as Secretary of Commerce under Harding. He kept the role during the Coolidge administration.
Hoover was an active commerce leader, creating divisions to work with new industries, supporting worker rights, children’s rights and housing.
He even participated in the “first” TV broadcast.
Coolidge decided against running for a second full term in 1928.
Republican stalwarts were leery of Hoover’s activist ways, so they didn’t strongly support his candidacy. But, they relented and supported his nomination at the Kansas City convention. This was in large part because newspapers provided Hoover a lot of positive publicity.
The Hoover campaign won the 1928 presidential election in a landslide.
That was one of the last times he’d enjoy success in the following few years.
During the first few months of his administration, everything seemed to move right along. He initiated changes in civil service employee protection, revamped presidential fringe benefits. He even redirected the attention of federal law enforcement agencies to gang-related crime. This led to the arrest and conviction of Al Capone for tax evasion.
Hoover was responsible for creating the Veterans Administration and increasing the size of VA hospitals.
Everything seemed to go well for President Hoover.
Then, Oct. 29, 1929, came.
This marked the darkest day in American economic history as the stock market crashed, sending Wall Street and the rest of the United States into the Great Depression.
In his defense, Hoover suggested to Coolidge 4 years earlier that the federal government needed to reel in the speculation aspect of Wall Street investors. As Commerce secretary, he was concerned with the unregulated speculation. Who knew it would come back to bite him…
Hoover addressed the crisis quickly. He met with business and labor leaders within three weeks of “Black Tuesday,” the name given to Oct. 29th.
Businesses agreed to spend more on labor and hold the line. Labor leaders agreed to move forward without additional demands. Government agencies were ordered to speed up construction projects.
The New York Times credited Hoover with taking decisive action, according to the museum’s website.
But, in the end, it wasn’t enough. Unemployment more than doubled in a year. Mortgages defaulted. A severe drought hit the country, endangering the agriculture industry
So, despite Hoover’s best intentions, the Great Depression consumed the nation. For all intent and purposes, his presidency was done within a year of taking office.
Hoover suffered political losses over the next three years of his term. Despite this, he sought re-election.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt swept the election in 1932. FDR promised a “New Deal” to get America out of the depression – public works programs, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, Civilian Conservation Corp and the Works Progress Administration among them.
The Hoover Dam was originally started as a public works project during the Hoover administration. The Nevada/Arizona dam was built to reign in the Colorado River and provide water support for the American southwest.
Designed to be a seven-year project, men worked around the clock and completed the project in five years.
President Roosevelt had the dam named the Boulder Dam, because the nearby city was Boulder City. It was later renamed Hoover Dam.
Hoover got another kick in the pants shortly before departing office in March 1933. The banking industry suffered a major crisis with several failing. He attempted to fight the crisis, but had little say at this point.
Once he returned to civilian life, Hoover sought a successful post-presidency career.
He wrote several books over the years. He raised money for causes he supported. In 1936, he joined the Boys Club of America board of directors and was elected its chairman.
President Roosevelt died in office, and Vice President Harry Truman ascended to the presidency.
Following the end of World War II, Truman sought Hoover’s involvement with addressing issues concerning global hunger. Hoover later commented that this added years to his life. He felt productive again serving the public.
Truman, a Democrat, and Hoover developed a lasting friendship.
The Hoovers spent most of their post-White House years living in New York City. They owned a penthouse at the Waldorf.
Lou Hoover passed away in 1944, just short of her 70th birthday. President Hoover passed away in 1964 at the age of 90. They are both buried on the grounds of the museum.
The Hoover childhood home is a few steps from the museum. It’s a small house. It’s difficult to imagine that an American president lived in a house that size as a child. The house was a few feet from his dad’s blacksmith shop.
Beyond the museum, West Branch provides visitors with a look back in time. Several older homes are scattered around a park.
For more information on the Hoover Library and Museum, please visit http://hoover.archives.gov/.
The Hoover presidential museum was the third we’ve visited. We’ve seen the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL, and the Truman Museum in Independence, MO. I’ve also visited the birthplace of former President Bill Clinton in Hope, AR.