Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover
31st President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1929  March 4, 1933
Vice President Charles Curtis
Preceded by Calvin Coolidge
Succeeded by Franklin D. Roosevelt
3rd United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
March 5, 1921  August 21, 1928
President Warren G. Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Preceded by Joshua W. Alexander
Succeeded by William F. Whiting
Director of the U.S. Food Administration
In office
August 21, 1917  November 16, 1918
President Woodrow Wilson
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Personal details
Born Herbert Clark Hoover
(1874-08-10)August 10, 1874
West Branch, Iowa, U.S.
Died October 20, 1964(1964-10-20) (aged 90)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting place Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
West Branch, Iowa
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lou Henry (m. 1899; d. 1944)
Children Herbert Jr. and Allan
Residence Stanford, California, U.S.
Religion Quaker
Signature Cursive signature in ink

Herbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964) was an American politician who served as the 31st President of the United States from 1929 to 1933. A Republican, as Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s he introduced Progressive Era themes of efficiency in the business community and provided government support for standardization, efficiency and international trade. As president from 1929 to 1933, his ambitious programs were overwhelmed by the Great Depression, that seemed to get worse every year despite the increasingly large-scale interventions he made in the economy. He was defeated in a landslide in 1932 by Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, and spent the rest of his life as a conservative denouncing big government, liberalism and federal intervention in economic affairs, as Democrats repeatedly used his Depression record to attack conservatism and justify more regulation of the economy.

He was a professional mining engineer and was raised as a Quaker. Hoover served as head of the U.S. Food Administration during World War I, and became internationally known for humanitarian relief efforts in wartime Belgium.[1] As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s he promoted partnerships between government and business. In the presidential election of 1928, Hoover easily won the Republican nomination, despite having no elected-office experience. Hoover is the most recent cabinet secretary to be elected President of the United States, as well as one of only three Presidents (along with William Howard Taft and Donald Trump) who had neither been elected to a national political office or governorship, nor served as military generals.[2] Although Hoover never raised the religious issue, some of his supporters did in mobilizing anti-Catholic sentiment against his opponent Al Smith.

Hoover, a globally experienced engineer, believed strongly in the Efficiency Movement, which held that the government and the economy were riddled with inefficiency and waste, and could be improved by experts who could identify the problems and solve them. He also believed in the importance of volunteerism and of the role of individuals in society and the economy. A rich man, Hoover donated all his federal paychecks to charity.[3]

When the Wall Street Crash of 1929 struck less than eight months after he took office, Hoover tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression in the United States with large-scale government public works projects such as the Hoover Dam, and calls on industry to keep wages high. He reluctantly approved the Smoot–Hawley Tariff, which sent foreign trade spiralling down. He believed it was essential to balance the budget despite falling tax revenue, so he raised the tax rates. The economy kept falling and unemployment rates rose to about 25%. This downward spiral, plus his support for prohibition policies that had lost favor, set the stage for Hoover's overwhelming defeat in 1932 by Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who promised a New Deal.

After Roosevelt assumed the Presidency in 1933, Hoover became a conservative spokesman for opposition to the domestic and foreign policies of the New Deal. In 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed Hoover to head the Hoover Commission, intended to foster greater efficiency throughout the federal bureaucracy. Most historians agree that Hoover's defeat in the 1932 election was caused primarily by the downward economic spiral, although his strong support for prohibition was also significant. Hoover is usually ranked lower than average among U.S. Presidents.

Family background and early life

1877 Herbert Hoover Tintype

Herbert Hoover was born on August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa, the first of his office born in that state and west of the Mississippi River. His father, Jesse Hoover (1849–80), was a blacksmith and farm implement store owner, of German (Pfautz, Wehmeyer), German-Swiss (Huber, Burkhart), and British Isles ancestry. Jesse Hoover and his father Eli had moved to Iowa from Ohio twenty years previously.[4] Hoover's mother, Hulda Randall Minthorn (1849–84), was born in Norwich, Ontario, Canada, and was of English and Irish ancestry. Both of his parents were Quakers.

At about age two he contracted the croup. He was so ill that he was momentarily thought to have died, until he was resuscitated by his uncle, John Minthorn.[5] As a child, he was often called by his father "my little stick in the mud", since he repeatedly was trapped in the mud while crossing an unpaved street.[6] Hoover's family figured prominently in the town's public prayer life, due almost entirely to Hulda's role in her church.[7] His father, noted by the local paper for his "pleasant, sunshiny disposition", died in 1880. After working to retire her husband's debts, retain their life insurance, and care for the children, his mother died in 1884, leaving Hoover (age nine), his older brother, and his younger sister as orphans.[8] Fellow Quaker Lawrie Tatum was appointed as Hoover's guardian.

Herbert Hoover birthplace cottage, West Branch, Iowa

After a brief stay with one of his grandmothers in Kingsley, Iowa, Hoover lived the next 18 months with his uncle Allen Hoover in West Branch. In November 1885, he went to Newberg, Oregon, to live with his uncle Dr. John Minthorn, a physician and businessman whose own son had died the year before. The Minthorn household was considered cultured and educational, and imparted a strong work ethic.[9] For two-and-a-half years, Hoover attended Friends Pacific Academy (now George Fox University), and then worked as an office assistant in his uncle's real estate office, the Oregon Land Company, in Salem, Oregon. Though he did not attend high school, Hoover attended night school and learned bookkeeping, typing and mathematics.[10]

Hoover entered Stanford University in 1891, its inaugural year, after failing all the entrance exams (except mathematics) and then being tutored for the summer in Palo Alto.[11] The first-year students were not required to pay tuition.[10] Hoover claimed to be the very first student at Stanford, by virtue of having been the first person in the first class to sleep in the dormitory.[12] While at the university, he was the student manager of both the baseball and football teams and was a part of the inaugural Big Game versus rival the University of California and friend (CAL Manager) Herbert Lang.[13] Only 10,000 tickets were printed for the inaugural game and 20,000 people showed up. Both Hoover and Lang had to find pots, bowls and any other available receptacles to collect admission fees.[14] Stanford won the game.[12][15]:21–22 In 1892 Hoover invited Polish composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski to give a benefit concert. Hoover and his associates were unable to pay Paderewski's the entire honorarium. The musician after hearing their story returned them the money so they could pay for rental of the concert hall. In 1919 Paderewski, who become prime minister of Poland, traveled to Hoover to thank him for the relief sent to Poland. "That's all right, Mr. Paderewski," Hoover replied. "Besides, you don't remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college and I was in a hole."[16][17][18] Hoover graduated in 1895 with a degree in geology.[19] He earned his way through four years of college working various jobs on and off campus, including the Geological Survey of Arkansas and the United States Geological Survey.[20] Throughout his tenure at Stanford, he was adamantly opposed to the fraternity system.[21]

Mining engineer


Herbert Hoover, aged 23; taken in Perth, Western Australia, in 1898

After graduation, Hoover worked in the gold mining districts of Nevada City and Grass Valley, California, before landing a job with the mining engineering firm of Louis Janin.[15]:25–28 Hoover went to Western Australia in 1897 as an employee of Bewick, Moreing & Co., a London-based gold mining company. His geological training and work experience were well suited for the firm's objectives.[22] He worked at gold mines in Big Bell, Cue, Gwalia, Menzies, and Coolgardie.[23][24] Hoover first went to Coolgardie, then the center of the Western Australian goldfields, where he worked under Edward Hooper, a company partner. Conditions were harsh in these goldfields even though he got a $5,000 salary (equivalent to $100,000 today).[25] In the Coolgardie and Murchison rangelands on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert, Hoover described the region as a land of "black flies, red dust and white heat".[26] He served as a geologist and mining engineer while searching the Western Australian goldfields for investments. After being appointed as mine manager at the age of 23, he led a major program of expansion for the Sons of Gwalia gold mine at Gwalia,[15]:33–34,78[27]:202 and brought in many Italian immigrants to cut costs and counter the union militancy of the Australian miners.[28][29] He believed "the rivalry between the Italians and the other men was of no small benefit."[28] He also described Italians as "fully 20 per cent superior"[28] to other miners.

During his time at Gwalia, Hoover first met Fleury James Lyster, a pioneering metallurgist.[30][31] In Western Australia friends called Hoover "H.C." or the old nickname "Hail Columbia".[32] An open feud developed between Hoover and his boss Ernest Williams, with Hoover persuading four other mine managers to conspire against his rival. The firm's principals then offered Hoover a compelling promotion which would relocate him to China and also end the feud.[33] Hoover then began to take stock of his private life, including contemplating the separation from his Stanford sweetheart, Lou Henry.

China and other global operations

Hoover promptly sent a cable of proposal to her, and subsequently married Lou Henry, in 1899. She had been an Episcopalian and became a Quaker. The Hoovers had two sons, Herbert Charles Hoover (1903–1969) and Allan Henry Hoover (1907–1993). Before that, however, the happily married couple went to China, where Hoover had been sent by his firm in part to remove him from disputes with his supervisor in Australia. His work revolved around the situation of the huge Kaiping Mines. Hoover worked as chief engineer for the Chinese Bureau of Mines, and as general manager for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation.[34] Later he worked for Bewick, Moreing & Co. as the company's lead engineer. Hoover's wife learned Mandarin Chinese (she was a first-rate linguist), and he also learned some of the language while he worked in China; it is said that they used it during his tenure at the White House when they wanted to foil eavesdroppers.[35] Hoover made recommendations to improve the lot of the Chinese worker, seeking to end the practice of imposing long term servitude contracts and to institute reforms for workers based on merit.[36] The Boxer Rebellion trapped the Hoovers in Tianjin in June 1900. For almost a month, the settlement was under fire, and both dedicated themselves to defense of their city. Hoover himself guided U.S. Marines around Tianjin during the battle, using his knowledge of the local terrain.[37] Mrs. Hoover meanwhile devoted her efforts at the various hospitals and even wielded, and willingly and accurately deployed, a .38-caliber pistol.[38]

Lou Henry, age 17, on a burro and rifle-ready at Acton, California on August 22, 1891

Hoover was made a partner in Bewick, Moreing & Co. on December 18, 1901 and assumed responsibility for various Australian operations and investments.[39] His initial compensation rose to $12,500 annually in addition to a 20% share of profits.[40] The company eventually controlled at one point approximately 50% of gold production in Western Australia.[41] In 1901, Hoover no longer lived in Australia, but he visited the country in 1902, 1903, 1905, and 1907 as an overseas investor. Hoover was also a director of Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation (CEMC) when it became a supplier of immigrant labor from Southeast Asia for South African mines.[42] The first shipment of almost 2,000 workers arrived in Durban from Qinhuangdao in July 1904. By 1906, the total number of immigrant workers increased to 50,000, almost entirely recruited and shipped by CEMC. When the living and working conditions of the laborers became known, public opposition to the scheme grew and questions were asked in the British Parliament.[43] The scheme was abandoned in 1911.

In August–September 1905, he founded the Zinc Corporation (eventually part of the Rio Tinto Group) with William Baillieu and others. The lead-silver ore produced at Broken Hill, New South Wales was rich in zinc. But the zinc could not be recovered due to "the Sulphide Problem", and was left in the tailings that remained after the silver and lead was extracted.[44]

Zinc Corporation proposed to buy the tailings and extract the zinc by a new process. The froth flotation process was then being developed at Broken Hill, although the Zinc Corporation struggled to apply it.[45] Hoover was in Australia in 1905. F.J. Lyster, originally a carpenter before becoming a foreman in the gravity mill, perfected the "Lyster Process",[30] which enabled the Zinc Corporation to operate the world's first selective or differential flotation plant, According the Geoffrey Blainey, though the process was not fully understood, a patent was applied for in May 1912.[27] Hoover's brother, Theodore J. Hoover, also came to Broken Hill.

"Broken Hill was one of the dreariest places in the world at this time. It lay in the middle of the desert, was unbelievably hot in summer, had no fresh water, no vegetation, and mountains of tailings blew into every crack with every wisp of wind."[46] Despite these miserable conditions, Hoover and his associates became suppliers to world industry of zinc and other vital base minerals.

Sole proprietor

Herbert Hoover in his 30s while a mining engineer

In 1908, Hoover became an independent mining consultant, traveling worldwide until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. He left Bewick, Moreing & Co and, setting out on his own, eventually ended up with investments on every continent and offices in San Francisco, London, New York City, St. Petersburg, Paris and Mandalay, Burma.[47] He had his second successful venture with the British firm Burma Corporation, again producing silver, lead, and zinc in large quantities at the Namtu Bawdwin Mine, where he caught malaria in 1907.[15]:90–96,101–102[48] He also helped increase copper production in Kyshtym, Russia, through the use of pyritic smelting. Then he agreed to manage one of the Russian Czar's Cabinet Mines located in the Altai Mountains. The oxidized lead-zinc-silver ore contained copper and gold as well. According to Hoover, "It developed probably the greatest and richest single body of ore known in the world" before the Communist Revolution.[15]:102–108[49]

While living in London, noting the American engineer's patriotic intensity, some British acquaintances referred to him as the "star-spangled Hoover". It recalled the nickname he had acquired in the Australian outback: "Hail Columbia" Hoover.[50] The Bawdwin mine ultimately became the chief source of Hoover's fortune.[51]

In his spare time, Hoover wrote. His lectures at Columbia and Stanford universities were published in 1909 as Principles of Mining,[52] which became a standard textbook. Hoover and his wife also published their English translation of the 1556 mining classic De re metallica in 1912. This translation from the Latin of Renaissance author Georgius Agricola is still the most important scholarly version and provides its historical context.[53] It is still in print.

By 1914, Hoover was a wealthy man, with an estimated personal fortune of $4 million.[54] He was once quoted as saying "If a man has not made a million dollars by the time he is forty, he is not worth much".[55] By 1914, Hoover stood eventually to obtain what he later described as "a large fortune from these Russian industries, probably more than is good for anybody".[56] Sixty-six years after opening the mine in 1897, Hoover still had a partial share in the Sons of Gwalia mine when it finally closed in 1963, just one year before the former President's death in New York City in 1964. The successful mine had yielded $55m in gold and $10m in dividends for investors.[15] Herbert Hoover, acting as a main investor, financier, mining speculator, and organizer of men, played a major role in the important metallurgical developments that occurred in Broken Hill in the first decade of the twentieth century, developments that had a great impact on the mining and production of silver, lead, and zinc.[57][58][59][60][61][62] In later years Hoover thought of himself and his associates as "engineering doctors to sick concerns", hence his reputation as the "Doctor of sick mines".[63]

Humanitarian work

Relief in Europe and Belgium

Poster for the American Relief Administration for Belgium directed by Hoover.

When World War I began in August 1914, Hoover helped organize the return of around 120,000 Americans from Europe. He led 500 volunteers in distributing food, clothing, steamship tickets and cash.[64] "I did not realize it at the moment, but on August 3, 1914, my career was over forever. I was on the slippery road of public life."[65] Hoover liked to say that the difference between dictatorship and democracy was simple: dictators organize from the top down, democracies from the bottom up.

When Belgium faced a food crisis after being invaded by Germany in 1914, Hoover undertook an unprecedented relief effort with the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).[66] As chairman of the CRB, Hoover worked with the leader of the Belgian Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation (CNSA), Émile Francqui, to feed the entire nation for the duration of the war. The CRB obtained and imported millions of tons of foodstuffs for the CNSA to distribute, and watched over the CNSA to make sure the German army didn't appropriate the food. The CRB became a veritable independent republic of relief, with its own flag, navy, factories, mills, and railroads. Private donations and government grants (78%) supplied an $11-million-a-month budget.[67]

For the next two years, Hoover worked 14-hour days from London, administering the distribution of over two million tons of food to nine million war victims. In an early form of shuttle diplomacy, he crossed the North Sea forty times to meet with German authorities and persuade them to allow food shipments, becoming an international hero. The Belgian city of Leuven named a prominent square Hooverplein after him. At its peak, Hoover's American Relief Administration (ARA) fed 10.5 million people daily. Great Britain grew reluctant to support the CRB, preferring instead to emphasize Germany's obligation to supply the relief; Winston Churchill, whom Hoover intensely disliked, led a military faction that considered the Belgian relief effort "a positive military disaster".

During this time, Hoover made a strong impression on the American Ambassador to Great Britain, Walter Page. In a Memoranda dated December 30, 1916, Page wrote: Mr. Herbert C. Hoover, Chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, would, if opportunity should offer, make a useful officer in the State Department. He is probably the only man living who has privately (i.e., without holding office) negotiated understandings with the British, French, German, Dutch, and Belgian governments. He personally knows and has had direct dealings with these governments, and his transactions with them have involved several hundred million dollars. He is a man of very considerable fortune—less than when the war began, for tins relief work has cost him much. He was approached on behalf of the British Government with the suggestion that if he would become a British subject the Government would be pleased to give him an important executive post and with the hint that if he succeeded a title might await him. His answer was: "I'll do what I can for you with pleasure; but I'll be damned if I'll give up my American citizenship—not on your life!" Within the last six months two large financial organizations, each independently, have offered him $100,000 a year to enter their service; and an industrial company offered him $100,000 "to start with." He declined them all. When the Belgian relief work recently struck a financial snag, Hoover by telegraph got the promise of a loan in the United States to the British and French governments for Belgian relief of $150,000,000.

U.S. Food Administration

After the United States entered the war in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover to head the U.S. Food Administration, which was created under the Lever Food Control Act in 1917. This was a position he actively sought, though he later claimed it was thrust upon him. He was convinced from his Belgian work that centralization of authority was essential to any relief effort; he demanded, and got, great power albeit not as much as he sought.[68] Hoover believed "food will win the war"; and beginning on September 29, this slogan was introduced and put into frequent use.[69]

He carefully selected men to assist in the agency leadership – Alonzo Taylor (technical abilities), Robert Taft (political associations), Gifford Pinchot (agricultural influence) and Julius Barnes (business acumen).[70] Hoover established set days for people to avoid eating specified foods and save them for soldiers' rations: meatless Mondays, wheatless Wednesdays, and "when in doubt, eat potatoes". This program helped reduce consumption of foodstuffs needed overseas and avoided rationing at home. It was dubbed "Hooverizing" by government publicists, in spite of Hoover's continual orders that publicity should not mention him by name. The agency employed a system of price controls and licensing requirements for suppliers to maximize production. Despite efforts to prevent it, some companies reaped great profits.[71]

Post-war relief

After the war, as a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration, Hoover organized shipments of food for millions of starving people in Central Europe. He used a newly formed Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee, to carry out much of the logistical work in Europe.

Hoover provided aid to the defeated German nation after the war, as well as relief to famine-stricken Bolshevik-controlled areas of Russia in 1921, despite the opposition of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and other Republicans. When asked if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!". However, Hoover also realized that his control of food aid provided him significant leverage over the new Bolshevik regime and successfully parlayed it into the release of Xenophon Kalamatiano among others.[72] The Russian famine of 1921–22 claimed 6 million people.[73] In July 1922, Soviet author Maxim Gorky wrote to Hoover:

Your help will enter history as a unique, gigantic achievement, worthy of the greatest glory, which will long remain in the memory of millions of Russians whom you have saved from death.[74]

At war's end, the New York Times named Hoover one of the "Ten Most Important Living Americans". Hoover confronted a world of political possibilities when he returned home in 1919. Democratic Party leaders saw him as a potential Presidential candidate, and President Wilson privately preferred Hoover as his successor. "There could not be a finer one," asserted Franklin D. Roosevelt, then a rising star from New York. Hoover briefly considered becoming a Democrat, but he believed that 1920 would be a Republican year. Also, Hoover confessed that he could not run for a party whose only member in his boyhood home had been the town drunk.

Hoover realized that he was in a unique position to collect information about the Great War and its aftermath. In 1919 he established the Hoover War Collection at Stanford University. He donated all the files of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, the U.S. Food Administration, and the American Relief Administration, and pledged $50,000 as an endowment. Scholars were sent to Europe to collect pamphlets, society publications, government documents, newspapers, posters, proclamations, and other ephemeral materials related to the war and the revolutions that followed it. The collection was later renamed the Hoover War Library and is now known as the Hoover Institution.

Secretary of Commerce

Assistants William McCracken (left) & Walter Drake (right) with Secretary Hoover (center)

Hoover rejected the Democratic Party's overtures in 1920. He had been a registered Republican before the war, though he had supported Theodore Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" Progressive Party in 1912. Now he declared himself a Republican and a candidate for the Presidency.

He placed his name on the ballot in the California state primary election, where he nearly beat popular Senator Hiram Johnson. But having lost in his home state, Hoover was not considered a serious contender at the convention. Even when it deadlocked for several ballots between Illinois Governor Frank Lowden and General Leonard Wood, few delegates seriously considered Hoover as a compromise choice. Although he had personal misgivings about the capability of the nominee, Warren G. Harding, Hoover publicly endorsed him and made two speeches for Harding.

Hoover with President Harding at a baseball game in 1921.

After being elected, Harding rewarded Hoover for his support, offering to appoint him either Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Commerce. Hoover ultimately chose Commerce. Commerce had existed for just eight years, since the division of the earlier Department of Commerce and Labor. Commerce was considered a minor Cabinet post, with limited and vaguely defined responsibilities.

Hoover aimed to change that, envisioning the Commerce Department as the hub of the nation's growth and stability. From Harding he demanded, and received, authority to coordinate economic affairs throughout the government. He created many sub-departments and committees, overseeing and regulating everything from manufacturing statistics, the census and radio, to air travel. In some instances he "seized" control of responsibilities from other Cabinet departments when he deemed that they were not carrying out their responsibilities well. Hoover became one of the most visible men in the country, often overshadowing Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Washington wags referred to Hoover as "the Secretary of Commerce... and Under-Secretary of Everything Else!"

As secretary and later as President, Hoover revolutionized relations between business and government. Rejecting the adversarial stance of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson, he sought to make the Commerce Department a powerful service organization, empowered to forge cooperative voluntary partnerships between government and business. This philosophy is often called "associationalism". Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission opposed Hoover's goals,[75] but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Maple Flooring Manufacturers' Assn. v. United States 268 U.S. 563 (1925) that Hoover's policies served the public interest by producing "fairer price levels" and "avoid[ing] waste."[76]

Many of Hoover's efforts as Commerce Secretary centered on eliminating waste and increasing efficiency in business and industry. This included reducing labor losses from trade disputes and seasonal fluctuations, reducing industrial losses from accident and injury, and reducing the amount of crude oil spilled during extraction and shipping. One major achievement was to promote product standardizations. He promoted international trade by opening overseas offices to advise businessmen. Hoover was especially eager to promote Hollywood films overseas.[77]

His "Own Your Own Home" campaign was a collaboration to promote ownership of single-family dwellings, with groups such as the Better Houses in America movement, the Architects' Small House Service Bureau, and the Home Modernizing Bureau. He worked with bankers and the savings and loan industry to promote the new long-term home mortgage, which dramatically stimulated home construction.[78]

It has been suggested that Herbert Hoover was the best Secretary of Commerce in United States history.[79][80] Hoover was the last President to have held a full cabinet position.

Hoover's detractors wondered why he did not do anything to reapportion congress after the 1920 United States Census which saw an increase in urban and immigrant populations. The 1920 Census was the first and only Decennial Census where the results were not used to reapportion Congress; which ultimately influenced the 1928 Electoral College and impacted the Presidential Election.[81][82]

Radio conferences

Herbert Hoover listening to a radio receiver

Hoover's radio conferences played a key role in the early organization, development and regulation of radio broadcasting. Prior to the Radio Act of 1927, the Secretary of Commerce was unable to deny radio licensing or reassign broadcast frequencies. With help from supporters Senator Dill and Representative White, Hoover brought the issue of radio control to the Senate floor. Hoover fought for more power to control the proliferation of licensed radio stations (which in 1927, stood at 732 stations). With help from Dill and White, Hoover promoted the Dill-White Bill which eventually would become the Radio Act of 1927. This act allowed the government to intervene and abolish radio stations that were deemed "non-useful" to the public. Hoover's attempts at regulating radio were not supported by all Congressmen, and he received much opposition from the Senate and from radio station owners. However, Hoover's contributions to regulate radio in its infancy heavily influenced the modern radio system.[83]

Hoover contributed to major projects for navigation, irrigation of dry lands, electrical power, and flood control. As the new air transport industry developed, Hoover held a conference on aviation to promote codes and regulations. He became President of the American Child Health Organization, and he raised private funds to promote health education in schools and communities.

Although he continued to consider Harding ill-suited to be President, the two men nevertheless became friends. Hoover accompanied Harding on his final trip out West in 1923. It was Hoover who called for a specialist to tend to the ailing Chief Executive, and it was also Hoover who contacted the White House to inform them of the President's death. The Commerce Secretary headed the group of dignitaries accompanying Harding's body back to the capital.

By the end of Hoover's service as Secretary, he had raised the status of the Department of Commerce. This was reflected in its modern headquarters built during the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s in the Federal Triangle in Washington, D.C.

Traffic conferences

As Commerce Secretary, Hoover also hosted two national conferences on street traffic, in 1924 and 1926 (a third convened in 1930, during Hoover's presidency). Collectively the meetings were called the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety. Hoover's chief objective was to address the growing casualty toll of traffic accidents, but the scope grew and soon embraced motor vehicle standards, rules of the road, and urban traffic control. He left the invited interest groups to negotiate agreements among themselves, which were then presented for adoption by states and localities. Because automotive trade associations were the best organized, many of the positions taken by the conferences reflected their interests. The conferences issued a model Uniform Vehicle Code for adoption by the states, and a Model Municipal Traffic Ordinance for adoption by cities. Both were widely influential, promoting greater uniformity between jurisdictions and tending to promote the automobile's priority in city streets.[84]

Mississippi flood

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 broke the banks and levees of the lower Mississippi River in early 1927, resulting in flooding of millions of acres and leaving 1.5 million people displaced from their homes. Although such a disaster did not fall under the duties of the Commerce Department, the governors of six states along the Mississippi specifically asked for Herbert Hoover in the emergency. President Calvin Coolidge sent Hoover to mobilize state and local authorities, militia, army engineers, the Coast Guard, and the American Red Cross.

With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Hoover set up health units to work in the flooded regions for a year. These workers stamped out malaria, pellagra, and typhoid fever from many areas. His work during the flood brought Herbert Hoover to the front page of newspapers almost everywhere, and he gained new accolades as a humanitarian. The great victory of his relief work, he stressed, was not that the government rushed in and provided all assistance; it was that much of the assistance available was provided by private citizens and organizations in response to his appeals. "I suppose I could have called in the Army to help", he said, "but why should I, when I only had to call upon Main Street."

The treatment of African-Americans during the disaster endangered Hoover's reputation as a humanitarian. Local officials brutalized black farmers and prevented them from leaving relief camps, aid intended for African-American sharecroppers was often given instead to the landowners, and black men often were conscripted by locals into forced labor, sometimes at gun point.[85] Knowing the potential damage to his presidential hopes if this became public, Hoover struck a deal with Robert Russa Moton,[86] the prominent African-American successor to Booker T. Washington as president of the Tuskegee Institute. In exchange for keeping the sufferings of African-Americans quiet, Hoover promised unprecedented influence for African-Americans should he become president. Moton agreed, and following the accommodationist philosophy of Washington, he worked actively[86] to conceal the information from the media.

Presidential election of 1928

Republican primaries

When President Calvin Coolidge announced in August 1927 that he would not seek a second full term of office in the 1928 presidential election, Hoover became the leading Republican candidate, despite the fact Coolidge was lukewarm on Hoover, often deriding his ambitious and popular Commerce Secretary as "Wonder Boy".[87] Coolidge had been reluctant to choose Hoover as his successor; on one occasion he remarked that "for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad. I was particularly offended by his comment to 'shit or get off the pot'."[88] Even so, Coolidge had no desire to split the party by publicly opposing the popular Commerce Secretary's nomination.[89]

Hoover's only real challenger was Frank Orren Lowden, a former governor of Illinois. Hoover received much favorable press coverage in the months leading up to the convention. Lowden's campaign manager complained that newspapers were full of "nothing but advertisements for Herbert Hoover and Fletcher's Castoria". Hoover's reputation, experience, and popularity coalesced to give him the Republican nomination on the first ballot.

The delegates considered nominating Vice President Charles Dawes to be Hoover's running mate. But Coolidge (who hated Dawes) remarked that this would be "a personal affront" to him. The convention selected Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas.[90]

Despite running for President, Hoover did not resign as Commerce Secretary until August 21, two months after he was nominated for the presidency at the Republican National Convention.

General election

1928 electoral vote results.

Hoover campaigned for efficiency and the Republican record of prosperity against Democrat Alfred E. Smith. Smith likewise was a proponent of efficiency earned as governor of New York. Both candidates were pro-business, and each promised to improve conditions for farmers, reform immigration laws, and maintain America's isolationist foreign policy. Where they differed was on the Volstead Act which outlawed the sale of liquor and beer. Smith was a "wet" who called for its repeal, whereas Hoover gave limited support for prohibition, calling it an "experiment noble in purpose". His use of "experiment" suggested it was not permanent. While Smith won extra support among Catholics in the big cities Smith was the target of intense anti-Catholicism from some Protestant communities, especially as Southern Baptists and German Lutherans.[91] Overall the religious factor worked to the advantage of Hoover, although he took no part in it.[92]

Historians agree that Hoover's national reputation and the booming economy, combined with deep splits in the Democratic Party over religion and prohibition, guaranteed his landslide victory with 58% of the vote.[93] Hoover's appeal to southern white voters succeeded in cracking the "Solid South", winning the Democratic strongholds of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Tennessee; the Deep South continued to support Smith as the Democratic candidate. This was the first time that a Republican candidate for president had carried Texas. Hoover and the national party had pursued a "lily-white southern strategy" to resuscitate the Republican Party in the South, "purging black Republicans from leadership positions in the southern wing of the G.O.P."[94] This outraged the black leadership, which largely broke from the Republican Party, and began seeking candidates who supported civil rights within the Democratic Party.[95] In 1956, W. E. B. Du Bois, a leader in the NAACP in the 1920s, would recall that "[i]n 1928, Negroes faced absolute dilemma. Neither Hoover nor Smith wanted the Negro vote and both publicly insulted us."[96]

Presidency (1929–1933)

Inauguration of Hoover

Hoover held a press conference on his first day in office, promising a "new phase of press relations".[97] He asked the group of journalists to elect a committee to recommend improvements to the White House press conference. Hoover declined to use a spokesman, instead asking reporters to directly quote him and giving them handouts with his statements ahead of time. In his first 120 days in office, he held more regular and frequent press conferences than any other President, before or since. However, he changed his press policies after the 1929 stock market crash, screening reporters and greatly reducing his availability.[97]

Lou Henry Hoover was an activist First Lady. She typified the new woman of the post–World War I era: intelligent, robust, and aware of multiple female possibilities.[98]

White House physician Admiral Joel T. Boone invented the sport Hooverball to keep Hoover fit while in the White House. Hooverball is a combination of volleyball and tennis, played with a 6 lb medicine ball. Hoover and several staff members played it each morning, earning them the nickname Medicine Ball Cabinet.[99]

Domestic policies

Herbert Hoover as the new President of the United States; original drawing for an Oscar Cesare political cartoon, March 17, 1929

On poverty, Hoover said that "Given the chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, we shall soon with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation",[100] and promised, "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land," but within months, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 occurred, and the world's economy spiraled downward into the Great Depression.[101]

Hoover entered office with a plan to reform the nation's regulatory system, believing that a federal bureaucracy should have limited regulation over a country's economic system.[102] A self-described progressive and reformer, Hoover saw the presidency as a vehicle for improving the conditions of all Americans by encouraging public-private cooperation—what he termed "volunteerism". Hoover saw volunteerism as preferable to governmental coercion or intervention which he saw as opposed to the American ideals of individualism and self-reliance.[103] Long before entering politics, he had actually denounced laissez-faire thinking.[104]

Hoover expanded civil service coverage of federal positions, canceled private oil leases on government lands, and by instructing the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service to pursue gangsters for tax evasion, he enabled the prosecution of mobster Al Capone. He appointed a commission that set aside 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km²) of national parks and 2,300,000 acres of national forests; advocated tax reduction for low-income Americans (not enacted); closed certain tax loopholes for the wealthy; doubled the number of veterans' hospital facilities; negotiated a treaty on St. Lawrence Seaway (which failed in the U.S. Senate); wrote a Children's Charter that advocated protection of every child regardless of race or gender; created an antitrust division in the Justice Department; required air mail carriers to adopt stricter safety measures and improve service; proposed federal loans for urban slum clearances (not enacted); organized the Federal Bureau of Prisons; reorganized the Bureau of Indian Affairs; instituted prison reform; proposed a federal Department of Education (not enacted); advocated $50-per-month pensions for Americans over 65 (not enacted); chaired White House conferences on child health, protection, homebuilding and home-ownership; began construction of the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam); and signed the Norris–La Guardia Act that limited judicial intervention in labor disputes.

Herbert Hoover with his dog, King Tut

Foreign relations

On November 19, 1928, President-elect Hoover embarked on a ten-nation goodwill tour of Latin America. He delivered twenty-five speeches, almost all of which stressed his plans to reduce American political and military interference in Latin American affairs. In sum, he pledged that the United States would act as a "good neighbor."[105][106] Potential disaster was averted when an Argentine anarchist intent on assassinating Hoover was arrested. Hoover professed unconcern, tearing off the front page of a newspaper that revealed the plot and explaining, "It's just as well that Lou shouldn't see it."[107]

Following the release in 1930 of the Clark Memorandum, Hoover began formulating what would become Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy. He began withdrawing American troops from Nicaragua and Haiti; he also proposed an arms embargo on Latin America and a one-third reduction of the world's naval power, which was called the Hoover Plan. The Roosevelt Corollary ceased being part of U.S. foreign policy. In response to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, he and Secretary of State Henry Stimson outlined the Hoover–Stimson Doctrine which held that the United States would not recognize territories gained by force.[108]

Hoover mediated between Chile and Peru to solve a conflict on the sovereignty of Arica and Tacna, that in 1883 by the Treaty of Ancón had been awarded to Chile for ten years, to be followed by a plebiscite that had never happened. By the Tacna–Arica compromise at the Treaty of Lima in 1929, Chile kept Arica, and Peru regained Tacna.

Civil rights

Hoover seldom mentioned civil rights while he was President. He believed that African-Americans and other races could improve themselves with education and individual initiative.[109] He opposed federal anti-lynching laws, and when lynchings occurred in the South, including one incident linked to his party's efforts to 'Republicanize' southern states, he offered only verbal condemnation.[94]

Hoover attempted to appoint John J. Parker of North Carolina to the Supreme Court in 1930 to replace Edward Sanford. The NAACP claimed that Parker had made many court decisions against African-Americans, and they fought the nomination. The NAACP was successful in gaining Senator William Borah's support and the nomination was defeated by two votes (39-41) in the Senate.[110]

First Lady Lou Hoover defied custom and invited the wife of Republican Oscar De Priest, the only African-American member in Congress, to tea at the White House. Booker T. Washington was the previous African-American to have dined at the White House, with Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.[111]

Charles Curtis, the nation's first Native American Vice President, was from the Kaw tribe in Kansas.[112] Hoover's humanitarian and Quaker reputation, along with Curtis as a vice-president, gave special meaning to his Indian policies. His Quaker upbringing influenced his views that Native Americans needed to achieve economic self-sufficiency. As President, he appointed Charles J. Rhoads as commissioner of Indian affairs. Hoover supported Rhoads' commitment to Indian assimilation and sought to minimize the federal role in Indian affairs. His goal was to have Indians acting as individuals (not as tribes) and to assume the responsibilities of citizenship granted with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.[113]

Great Depression

Hoover had long been a proponent of the concept that public-private cooperation was the way to achieve high long-term growth.[114] Hoover feared that too much government intervention would undermine long-term individuality and self-reliance, which he considered essential to the nation's future. Both his ideals and the economy were put to the test with the onset of the Great Depression.[115]

Although many people at the time and for decades afterwards denounced Hoover for taking a hands-off ("laissez-faire") approach to the Depression,[116] he actually pursued an activist policy. Hoover said he rejected Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's suggested "leave-it-alone" approach,[117] and called many business leaders to Washington to urge them not to lay off workers or cut wages.[118]

Herbert Hoover in the Oval Office with Ted Joslin, 1932

Libertarian economist Murray Rothbard argues that Hoover was actually the initiator of what came to be the New Deal. Hoover engaged in many unprecedented public works programs, including an increase in the Federal Buildings program of over $400 million and the establishment of the Division of Public Construction to spur public works planning. Hoover himself granted more subsidies to ship construction through the Federal Shipping Board and asked for a further $175 million appropriation for public works; this was followed in July 1930 with the expenditure of a giant $915 million public works program, including a Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.[119][120] In the spring of 1930, Hoover acquired from Congress an added $100 million to continue the Federal Farm Board lending and purchasing policies. At the end of 1929, the FFB established a national wool cooperative-the National Wool Marketing Corporation (NWMC) made up of 30 state associations. The Board also established an allied National Wool Credit Corporation to handle finances. A total of $31.5 million in loans for wool were made by the FFB, of which $12.5 million were permanently lost; these massive agricultural subsidies were a precedent for the later Agricultural Adjustment Act.[121][122] Hoover also advocated strong labor regulation law, including the enactment of the Bacon-Davis Act, requiring a maximum eight-hour day on construction of public buildings and the payment of at least the "prevailing wage" in the locality, as well as the Norris–La Guardia Act in 1932. In the Banking sector, Hoover passed The Federal Home Loan Bank Act in July, 1932, establishing 12 district banks ruled by a Federal Home Loan Bank Board in a manner similar to the Federal Reserve System. $125 million capital was subscribed by the Treasury and this was subsequently shifted to the RFC. Hoover was also instrumental in passing the Glass–Steagall Act of 1932, allowing for prime rediscounting at the Federal Reserve, allowing further inflation of credit and bank reserves.[123]

Lee Ohanian, from UCLA, argues that Hoover adopted pro-labor policies after the 1929 stock market crash that "accounted for close to two-thirds of the drop in the nation's gross domestic product over the two years that followed, causing what might otherwise have been a bad recession to slip into the Great Depression".[124] This minority argument is not widely accepted by economic historians.[125]

President Hoover with famed flier Amelia Earhart in 1932.

President Hoover tried to use the power of government to keep up wage rates after the crash of 1929, President Warren Harding had not done so after the crash of 1921.

In a statement to the public on his view of public or private relief efforts in 1931, Hoover argued that his, "own conviction is strongly that if we break down this sense of responsibility of individual generosity to individual and mutual self-help in the country in times of national difficulty and if we start appropriations of this character we have not only impaired something infinitely valuable in the life of the American people but have struck at the roots of self-government." Hoover thought that the strength of the American people lied in their ability to help each other in times of need, and to have the government take that away would make America loose something amazing that it had. That is why he, in his words, attempted to, "mobilize and organize the infinite number of agencies of self-help in the community."[126] Hoover's calls for greater government intervention increased as the world economy continued to decline. He was a firm believer in balanced budgets (as were most Democrats), and was unwilling to run a budget deficit to fund welfare programs - instead President Hoover greatly increased tax rates on the wealthy, the budget went into deficit in spite of (or because of) these tax increases on the wealthy.[127] However, Hoover did pursue many policies in an attempt to pull the country out of depression. In 1929, he authorized the Mexican Repatriation program to help unemployed Mexican citizens return home. The program was largely a forced migration of approximately 500,000 people to Mexico, and continued until 1937. In June 1930, over the objection of many economists, Congress approved and Hoover reluctantly signed into law the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act. The legislation raised tariffs on thousands of imported items. The intent of the Act was to encourage the purchase of American-made products by increasing the cost of imported goods, while raising revenue for the federal government and protecting farmers. However, economic depression had spread worldwide, and Canada, France and other nations retaliated by raising tariffs on imports from the U.S. The result was to contract international trade, and worsen the Depression.[128]

In 1931, Hoover issued the Hoover Moratorium, calling for a one-year halt in reparation payments by Germany and in the payment of Allied war debts to the United States. The Moratorium did little to ease economic declines. As the moratorium neared its expiration the following year, an attempt to find a permanent solution was made at the Lausanne Conference of 1932. A working compromise was never established, and reparations payments virtually stopped.[129][130][131] Hoover in 1931 urged the major banks in the country to form a consortium known as the National Credit Corporation (NCC), but they did not act.[132]

In the U.S. by 1932 unemployment had reached 24.9%,[133] businesses defaulted on record numbers of loans, and more than 5,000 banks had failed, especially small rural banks.[134] Hundreds of thousands of Americans found themselves homeless and began congregating in the numerous Hoovervilles (shanty towns) that sprang up in major cities; Democrats tied on the nasty name.

Congress, desperate to increase federal revenue, enacted the Revenue Act of 1932, which was the largest peacetime tax increase in history.[135] The Act increased taxes across the board, so that top earners were taxed at 63% on their net income - up from 25% when Herbert Hoover took office. The 1932 Act also increased the tax on the net income of corporations from 12% to 13.75%.

The final attempt of the Hoover Administration to rescue the economy occurred in 1932 with the passage of the Emergency Relief and Construction Act, which authorized funds for public works programs and the creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). The RFC's initial goal was to provide government-secured loans to financial institutions, railroads and local governments to continue relief programs. The RFC had modest impact in 1932-33, but it was adopted by Roosevelt and greatly expanded as part of his New Deal.[136]

Taxes, revenues, and deficits

National debt as a fraction of GNP up from 20% to 40% under Hoover. From Historical Statistics US (1976)

To pay for these and other government programs and to make up for revenue lost due to the Depression, in addition to the Revenue Act of 1932 Hoover agreed to roll back several tax cuts that his Administration had enacted on upper incomes. The estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15%. Also, a "check tax" was included that placed a 2-cent tax (over 30 cents in today's economy) on all bank checks. Economists William D. Lastrapes and George Selgin,[137] conclude that the check tax was "an important contributing factor to that period's severe monetary contraction". Hoover also encouraged Congress to investigate the New York Stock Exchange, and this pressure resulted in various reforms.

Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover aboard a train in Illinois.

Bonus Army

Main article: Bonus Army

Thousands of World War I veterans and their families demonstrated and camped out in Washington, DC, during June 1932, calling for immediate payment of a bonus that had been promised by the World War Adjusted Compensation Act in 1924 for payment in 1945. Although offered money by Congress to return home, some members of the "Bonus Army" remained. Washington police attempted to remove the demonstrators from their camp, but they were outnumbered and unsuccessful. Shots were fired by the police in a futile attempt to attain order, and two protesters were killed while many officers were injured. Hoover sent U.S. Army forces led by General Douglas MacArthur and helped by lower ranking officers Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton to stop a march. MacArthur, believing he was fighting a communist revolution, chose to clear out the camp with military force. In the ensuing clash, hundreds of civilians were injured. Hoover had sent orders that the Army was not to move on the encampment, but MacArthur chose to ignore the command. Hoover was incensed, but refused to reprimand MacArthur. The entire incident was another devastating negative for Hoover in the 1932 election. That led New York governor and Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt to declare of Hoover: "There is nothing inside the man but jelly!"

Administration and cabinet

Hoover's cabinet.
The Hoover Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Herbert Hoover19291933
Vice President Charles Curtis19291933
Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg1929
Henry L. Stimson19291933
Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon19291932
Ogden L. Mills19321933
Secretary of War James W. Good1929
Patrick J. Hurley19291933
Attorney General William D. Mitchell19291933
Postmaster General Walter F. Brown19291933
Secretary of the Navy Charles F. Adams19291933
Secretary of the Interior Ray L. Wilbur19291933
Secretary of Agriculture Arthur M. Hyde19291933
Secretary of Commerce Robert P. Lamont19291932
Roy D. Chapin19321933
Secretary of Labor James J. Davis19291930
William N. Doak19301933

Supreme Court appointments

Hoover appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:[138]

Supreme Court Appointments by President Herbert Hoover
Position Name Term
Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes19301941
Associate Justice Owen Roberts19301945
Benjamin N. Cardozo19321938

Hoover broke party lines to appoint the Democrat Cardozo. He explained that he "was one of the ancient believers that the Supreme Court should have a strong minority of the opposition's party and that all appointments should be made from experienced jurists. When the vacancy came... [Hoover] canvassed all the possible Democratic jurists and immediately concluded that Justice Cardozo was the right man and appointed him."[139]

1932 re-election campaign

Hoover addresses a large crowd in his 1932 campaign.

Although Hoover had come to detest the presidency, he agreed to run again in 1932, not only as a matter of pride, but also because he feared that no other likely Republican candidate would deal with the depression without resorting to what Hoover considered dangerously radical measures.

Hoover was nominated by the Republicans for a second term. He had originally planned to make only one or two major speeches, and to leave the rest of the campaigning to proxies, but when polls showed that the entire Republican ticket could be facing a resounding defeat, Hoover agreed to an expanded schedule of public addresses. In his nine major radio addresses Hoover primarily defended his administration and his philosophy. The apologetic approach did not allow Hoover to refute Democratic nominee Franklin Roosevelt's charge that he was personally responsible for the depression.[140]

In his campaign trips around the country, Hoover was faced with perhaps the most hostile crowds of any sitting president. Besides having his train and motorcades pelted with eggs and rotten fruit, he was often heckled while speaking, and on several occasions, the Secret Service halted attempts to kill Hoover by disgruntled citizens, including capturing one man nearing Hoover carrying sticks of dynamite, and another already having removed several spikes from the rails in front of the President's train.[141]

Franklin D. Roosevelt blasted Hoover for spending and taxing too much, increasing national debt, raising tariffs and blocking trade, as well as placing millions on the government dole. Roosevelt attacked Hoover for "reckless and extravagant" spending, for thinking "that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible".[142] Roosevelt's running mate, John Nance Garner, accused the Republican of "leading the country down the path of socialism".[143]

Despite the late campaign endeavors, Hoover sustained a large defeat in the election, having procured only 39.7 percent of the popular vote to Roosevelt's 57.4 percent. Hoover's popular vote was reduced by 26 percentage points from his result in the 1928 election. In the electoral college he carried only Pennsylvania, Delaware, and four other Northeastern states to lose 59–472. The Democrats extended their control over the U.S. House and gained control of the U.S. Senate.

After the election, Hoover requested that Roosevelt retain the Gold standard as the basis of the US currency, and in effect, continue many of the Hoover Administration's economic policies. Roosevelt refused.[144]


New Deal

Hoover with Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

Hoover departed from Washington in March 1933 with some bitterness, disappointed both that he had been repudiated by the voters and unappreciated for his best efforts. The Hoovers went first to New York City, where they stayed for a while in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Later that spring, they returned to California to their Stanford residence. Hoover enjoyed returning to the men's clubs that he had long been involved with, including the Bohemian Club, the Pacific-Union Club, and the University Club in San Francisco.[145]

Hoover liked to drive his car, accompanied by his wife or a friend (former Presidents did not get Secret Service protection until the 1960s), and drive on wandering journeys, visiting Western mining camps or small towns where he often went unrecognized, or heading up to the mountains, or deep into the woods, to go fishing in relative solitude. A year before his death, his own fishing days behind him, he published Fishing For Fun—And To Wash Your Soul, the last of more than sixteen books in his lifetime.

Hoover fishing in his home state of Iowa.

Although many of his friends and supporters called upon Hoover to speak out against FDR's New Deal and to assume his place as the voice of the "loyal opposition", he largely kept himself out of the public spotlight until late in 1934. Democratic politicians made him a convenient scapegoat for economic problems.

The relationship between Hoover and Roosevelt was one of the most severely strained in Presidential history. Hoover had little good to say about his successor. FDR, in turn, supposedly engaged in various petty official acts aimed at his predecessor, ranging from dropping him from the White House birthday greetings message list to having Hoover's name struck from the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, which would officially be known only as Boulder Dam for many years to come.

Hoover's book, Fishing For Fun – And To Wash Your Soul

Conservative opponents of the New Deal

Like most old Progressives from the early 20th century who were still active in the 1930s, Hoover opposed the big government ideas of the New Deal, its disinterest in efficiency, its hostility to business, and its downplaying of individualism. He made common cause with the traditional conservatives.[146]

When concerning Liberty Herbert Hoover held that the New Deal would expand the Government past a point where it would spread Government power into other areas and those areas would erode the rights of Americans away. So he viewed economics freedoms very highly and felt that the “bureaucracy” of the new deal would regiment people’s lives particularly over time.[147]

He also spoke out against how the New Deal would tie business and the Government together. He felt that the Government would become an active competitor against small business and the middle class while at the same time it would be tied in with the interests of much larger businesses. This to him meant that over time not only freedoms but the strength of the American economy was under threat.[148]

Hoover also took issue with the debt the New Deal would put on the new Government. He was referring to counter-cyclical spending which goal was to increase Aggregate Demand and turn the economy around. With this increased spending from the Government Herbert Hoover feared an irreversible trend of Government to spend beyond its means, increased inflation, and a crippling national debt. Hoover being a part of the Efficiency movement would have lead him to the belief that the Government entering in this way and creating debt would only get in the way of the Economy and ultimately slow it down.[149]

Economically Hoover felt that the economy, and the overall better “road” to travel was that without the New Deal. He held that the fastest growth of American prosperity and living standards happened under a system without the New Deal and it was this path he felt was the best for the nation. He recognized weaknesses but felt they could be fixed without a plan such as the New Deal.[150]

In 1936, Hoover entertained hopes of receiving the Republican presidential nomination again, and thus facing Roosevelt in a rematch. Although he retained strong support among some delegates, his base of support was too narrow. He campaigned for Kansas Governor Alf Landon by numerous well-publicized speeches attacking New Deal liberalism. He warned that Roosevelt's destruction of personal liberty was akin to European fascism.[151] Hoover might as well have been the nominee, since the Democrats virtually ignored Landon, and they ran against the former President himself, constantly attacking him and warning that a Landon victory would put Hoover back in the White House as the secret power behind the throne. Roosevelt won 46 of the 48 states, burying Landon in the Electoral College, and the Republican Party in Congress in another landslide.

Although Hoover's reputation was at its low point, circumstances began to rehabilitate his name and restore him to prominence. Roosevelt overreached on his Supreme Court packing plan, and a further financial recession in 1937 and 1938 tarnished his image of invincibility.

In 1939, former President Herbert Hoover became the first Honorary Chairman of Tolstoy Foundation in Valley Cottage, New York, and served in this capacity until his death in 1964.[152]

By 1940, Hoover was again being spoken of as the possible nominee of the party in the presidential election. Although he trailed in the polls behind Thomas Dewey, Arthur Vandenberg, and his own former protege, Robert A. Taft, he still had considerable first-ballot delegate strength, and it was believed that if the convention deadlocked between the leading candidates, the party might turn to him as its compromise. However, the convention nominated the utility company president Wendell Willkie, who had supported Roosevelt in 1932 but turned against him after the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority forced him to sell his company. Hoover dutifully supported Willkie, although he despaired that the nominee endorsed a platform that, to Hoover, was little more than the New Deal in all but name.

Road to war and World War II

Hoover visited 10 European countries in March 1938, the month of Nazi Germany's Anschluss of Austria, and stated "I do not believe a widespread war is at all probable in the near future. There is a general realization everywhere ... that civilization as we know it cannot survive another great war."[153] Like many, he initially believed that the European Allies would be able to contain Germany, and that Imperial Japan would not attack American interests in the Pacific.

Unlike Roosevelt's administration, Hoover was a vocal supporter of providing relief to countries in Nazi-occupied Europe.[154] He was instrumental in creating the Commission for Polish Relief and Finnish Relief Fund.[155][156]

When the Germans overran France and then had Britain held in a stalemate, many Americans saw Britain as on the verge of collapse. Nonetheless, Hoover declared that it would be folly for the United States to declare war on Germany and to rush to save the United Kingdom. Rather, he held, it was far wiser for this nation to devote itself to building up its own defenses, and to wash its hands of the mess in Europe. He called for a "Fortress America" concept, in which the United States, protected on the East and on the West by vast oceans patrolled by its Navy and its Air Corps (the USAAF), could adequately repel any attack on the Americas.

During a radio broadcast on June 29, 1941, one week after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Hoover disparaged any "tacit alliance" between the U.S. and the USSR by saying:

If we go further and join the war and we win, then we have won for Stalin the grip of communism on Russia... Again I say, if we join the war and Stalin wins, we have aided him to impose more communism on Europe and the world. At least we could not with such a bedfellow say to our sons that by making the supreme sacrifice, they are restoring freedom to the world. War alongside Stalin to impose freedom is more than a travesty. It is a tragedy.[157]

When the United States entered the war following the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hoover swept aside all feelings of neutrality and called for total victory. He offered himself to the government in any capacity necessary, but the Roosevelt Administration did not call upon him to serve.

Post–World War II

Herbert Hoover with his son Allan (left) and his grandson Andrew (above), 1950

Following World War II, Hoover became friends with President Harry S. Truman. Hoover joked that they were for many years the sole members of the "trade union" of former Presidents (since Calvin Coolidge and Roosevelt had died). Because of Hoover's experience with Germany at the end of World War I, in 1946 President Truman selected the former president to tour Germany to ascertain the food needs of the occupied nation. Hoover toured what was to become West Germany in Hermann Göring's old train coach and produced a number of reports critical of U.S. occupation policy. The economy of Germany had "sunk to the lowest level in a hundred years".[158] He stated in one report:

There is the illusion that the New Germany left after the annexations can be reduced to a "pastoral state". It cannot be done unless we exterminate or move 25,000,000 people out of it.[159]
External audio
National Press Club Luncheon Speakers, Herbert Hoover, March 10, 1954, 37:23, Hoover speaks starting at 7:25 about the second reorganization commission, Library of Congress[160]

On Hoover's initiative, a school meals program in the American and British occupation zones of Germany was begun on April 14, 1947. The program served 3,500,000 children aged six through 18. A total of 40,000 tons of American food was provided during the Hooverspeisung (Hoover meals).

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed Hoover to a commission, which elected him chairman, to reorganize the executive departments. This became known as the Hoover Commission. He was appointed chairman of a similar commission by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. Both found numerous inefficiencies and ways to reduce waste. The government enacted most of the recommendations that the two commissions had made: 71% of the first commission's and 64% of the second commission's.

Throughout the Cold War, Hoover, always an opponent of Marxism, became even more outspokenly anti-Communist.[161] However, he vehemently opposed American involvement in the Korean War, saying that "To commit the sparse ground forces of the non-communist nations into a land war against this communist land mass [in Asia] would be a war without victory, a war without a successful political terminal... that would be the graveyard of millions of American boys and the exhaustion of the United States."[162]

Hoover's official White House portrait painted by Elmer Wesley Greene.

Despite his advancing years, Hoover continued to work nearly full-time both on writing (among his literary works is The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, a bestseller, and the first time one former President had ever written a biography about another), as well as overseeing the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which housed not only his own professional papers, but also those of a number of other former high ranking governmental and military servants. He also threw himself into fund-raising for the Boys Clubs (now the Boys & Girls Clubs of America), which became his pet charity.

Final years and death

From Coolidge's death in 1933 to Dwight D. Eisenhower's last day of serving the presidency in 1961, Hoover had been the only living Republican former president. In 1960, Hoover appeared at his final Republican National Convention. Since the 1948 convention, he had been feted as the guest of "farewell" ceremonies (the unspoken assumption being that the aging former President might not survive until the next convention). Joking to the delegates, he said, "Apparently, my last three good-byes didn't take." Although he lived to see the 1964 convention, ill health prevented him from attending. The Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater acknowledged Hoover's absence in his acceptance speech. In 1962, Hoover had a malignant intestinal tumor removed. Ten months later he had severe gastrointestinal bleeding and seemed terminally ill and frail, but his mind was clear and he maintained a great deal of correspondence. Although the illness would get worse over time, he refused to be hospitalized.

Hoover died following massive internal bleeding at the age of 90 in his New York City suite at 11:35 a.m. on October 20, 1964,[163] 31 years, seven months, and sixteen days after leaving office. At the time of his death, he had the longest retirement of any President. Former President Jimmy Carter surpassed the length of Hoover's retirement on September 7, 2012. At the time of Hoover's death he was the second longest-lived president after John Adams; both were since surpassed by Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter. He had outlived by 20 years his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, who had died in 1944, and he was the last living member of the Coolidge administration. He also outlived both his successor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Eleanor Roosevelt who died in 1945 and 1962, respectively. From Coolidge's death on January 5, 1933, until Roosevelt was sworn into office on March 4 of that year, Hoover had the distinction of being President with no living ex-Presidents. Upon leaving office, Hoover was the only living ex-President for nearly 19 years, until Harry Truman left office in 1953.

By the time of his death, he had rehabilitated his image.[164] His birthplace in Iowa and an Oregon home where he lived as a child, became National Landmarks during his lifetime. His Rapidan fishing camp in Virginia, which he had donated to the government in 1933, is now a National Historic Landmark within the Shenandoah National Park. Hoover and his wife are buried at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Hoover was honored with a state funeral, the last of three in a span of 12 months, coming as it did just after the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and General Douglas MacArthur. Former Chaplain of the Senate Frederick Brown Harris officiated. All three had two things in common: the commanding general of the Military District of Washington during those funerals was Army Major General Philip C. Wehle and the riderless horse was Black Jack, who also served in that role during Lyndon B. Johnson's funeral.[165][166]


In 1912 Hoover published the English edition of the medieval mining compendium De Re Metallica (On the Nature of Metals), translated from Latin by himself and his wife, who was a geologist and proficient in Latin. It remains the standard English translation.

Hoover began his magnum opus Freedom Betrayed[167] in 1944 as part of a proposed autobiography. This turned into a significant work critiquing the foreign policy of the United States during the period from the 1930s to 1945. Essentially an attack on the statesmanship of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hoover completed this work in his 90th year but it was not published until the historian George H. Nash took on the task of editing it. Significant themes are his belief that the western democratic powers should have let Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia assail and weaken each other, and opposition to the British guarantee of Poland's independence.[168]

Heritage and memorials

Hoover Presidential Library
A plaque in Poznań honoring Herbert Hoover

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is located in West Branch, Iowa next to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. The library is one of thirteen presidential libraries run by the National Archives and Records Administration. The Hoover-Minthorn House, where Hoover lived from 1885 to 1891, is located in Newberg, Oregon.

The Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover House, built in 1919 in Stanford, California, is now the official residence of the president of Stanford University, and a National Historic Landmark. Also located at Stanford is the Hoover Institution, a think tank and research institution started by Hoover.

Hoover's rustic rural presidential retreat, Rapidan Camp (also known as Camp Hoover) in the Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, has been restored and opened to the public. The Hoover Dam is named in his honor, as are numerous elementary, middle, and high schools across the United States.

On December 10, 2008, Hoover's great-granddaughter Margaret Hoover and Senate of Puerto Rico President Kenneth McClintock unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of Hoover at Puerto Rico's Territorial Capitol. The statue is one of seven honoring Presidents who have visited the United States territory during their term of office.

One line in the All in the Family theme song—an ironic exercise in pre–New Deal nostalgia—says "Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again".

The Belgian city of Leuven named a square in the city center after Hoover, honoring him for his work as chairman of the "Commission for Relief in Belgium" during World War I. The square is near the Central Library of the Catholic University of Leuven, where a bust of the president can be seen.

The Polish capital of Warsaw also has a square named after Hoover alongside the Royal Route leading to the Old Town.[169]

George Burroughs Torrey painted a portrait of him.

The historic townsite of Gwalia, Western Australia contains the Sons of Gwalia Museum and the Hoover House Bed and Breakfast, the renovated and restored Mining Engineers residence that was the original residence of Herbert Hoover and where he stayed in subsequent visits to the mine during the first decade of the twentieth century.[170]


Brief synopsis of the Hoover Administration

See also


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Further reading


Scholarly studies

Primary sources

External links

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