31. HERBERT HOOVER 1929-1933
Son of a Quaker blacksmith, Herbert Clark Hoover brought to the
Presidency an unparalleled reputation for public service as an
engineer, administrator, and humanitarian.
Born in an Iowa village in 1874, he grew up in Oregon. He
enrolled at Stanford University when it opened in 1891,
graduating as a mining engineer.
He married his Stanford sweetheart, Lou Henry, and they went
to China, where he worked for a private corporation as China's
leading engineer. In June 1900 the Boxer Rebellion caught the
Hoovers in Tientsin. For almost a month the settlement was under
heavy fire. While his wife worked in the hospitals, Hoover
directed the building of barricades, and once risked his life
rescuing Chinese children.
One week before Hoover celebrated his 40th birthday in
London, Germany declared war on France, and the American Consul
General asked his help in getting stranded tourists home. In six
weeks his committee helped 120,000 Americans return to the
United States. Next Hoover turned to a far more difficult task,
to feed Belgium, which had been overrun by the German army.
After the United States entered the war, President Wilson
appointed Hoover head of the Food Administration. He succeeded
in cutting consumption of foods needed overseas and avoided
rationing at home, yet kept the Allies fed.
After the Armistice, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic
Council and head of the American Relief Administration,
organized shipments of food for starving millions in central
Europe. He extended aid to famine-stricken Soviet Russia in
1921. When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping
Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are
starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!"
After capably serving as Secretary of Commerce under
Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Hoover became the Republican
Presidential nominee in 1928. He said then: "We in America today
are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in
the history of any land." His election seemed to ensure
prosperity. Yet within months the stock market crashed, and the
Nation spiraled downward into depression.
After the crash Hoover announced that while he would keep the
Federal budget balanced, he would cut taxes and expand public
In 1931 repercussions from Europe deepened the crisis, even
though the President presented to Congress a program asking for
creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to aid
business, additional help for farmers facing mortgage
foreclosures, banking reform, a loan to states for feeding the
unemployed, expansion of public works, and drastic governmental
At the same time he reiterated his view that while people
must not suffer from hunger and cold, caring for them must be
primarily a local and voluntary responsibility.
His opponents in Congress, who he felt were sabotaging his
program for their own political gain, unfairly painted him as a
callous and cruel President. Hoover became the scapegoat for the
depression and was badly defeated in 1932. In the 1930's he
became a powerful critic of the New Deal, warning against
tendencies toward statism.
In 1947 President Truman appointed Hoover to a commission,
which elected him chairman, to reorganize the Executive
Departments. He was appointed chairman of a similar commission
by President Eisenhower in 1953. Many economies resulted from
both commissions' recommendations. Over the years, Hoover wrote
many articles and books, one of which he was working on when he
died at 90 in New York City on October 20, 1964.
Herbert Hoover Library and Museum