Herbert Hoover


Herbert Clark Hoover was the 31st president of the United
States. During his first year in office the Wall Street
crash of 1929 occurred. He was blamed for the resulting
collapse of the economy, and his unpopular policies brought
an end to a brilliant career in public office. After the
inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, however,
Hoover remained a leading critic of the New Deal and a
spokesman for the Republican party.
Early Life
Born on Aug. 10, 1874, the son of a blacksmith in the Iowa
village of West Branch, Hoover was orphaned at the age of
eight and sent to live with an uncle in Oregon. The uncle
became wealthy, enabling Hoover to study mining engineering
at Stanford University; he graduated in 1895. The
influences of his engineering training and his Quaker
upbringing were to shape his subsequent careers.
Hoover began working in California mines as an ordinary
laborer, but he soon obtained a position in Australia
directing a new gold-mining venture. During the next two
decades he traveled through much of Asia, Africa, and
Europe as a mining entrepreneur, earning a considerable
fortune. At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 he
was in London.
Hoover, who as a Quaker passionately believed in peace, was
appalled by the human costs of the war, and he determined
to devote his life to public service. He volunteered to
direct the exodus of American tourists from war-torn Europe
and then to head (1915-19) the Commission for Relief in
Belgium. This position brought him public attention as the
"great humanitarian," a well-earned reputation that he lost
only after the 1929 Wall Street debacle. The commission fed
10,000,000 people during the war and left funds for Belgian
postwar reconstruction.
When the United States entered the war in April 1917,
Hoover was called to Washington to serve as food
administrator. This was a special wartime office, created
to encourage American agricultural production and food
conservation and to coordinate a rational distribution of
food. When the war ended in November 1918, President
Woodrow Wilson sent Hoover back to Europe to direct the
American Relief Administration, an agency intended to
relieve the suffering in Europe caused by the war's
Hoover's public reputation was enormous as a result of his
activities in these offices, and some persons looked upon
him as a presidential candidate in 1920. He had never
participated in partisan politics, but he did declare
himself a Republican while refusing to seek the presidency
that year. In 1921, Warren G. Harding appointed Hoover
secretary of commerce, a post he held until he began his
own presidential campaign in 1928.
Secretary of Commerce
As secretary of commerce, Hoover made his most important
contributions to public policy. He was so able and active
in the administrations of Warren G. Harding and Calvin
Coolidge that observers often referred to him as "secretary
for domestic affairs." Hoover directly confronted a dilemma
central to American values: the conflict between the
tradition of individualism and the impersonalism of large
corporations and big cities. Hoover deeply believed in the
traditional worth of the individual, the value of personal
initiative, the rights of self-expression, and the legacy
of freedom of opportunity. These beliefs were deeply rooted
in American society and in Hoover's personal Quaker faith.
But Hoover, as an engineer, was also profoundly impressed
by the virtues of science. Rational principles could point
the way to disinterested fairness in public policy, bring
about greater efficiency in the economy and in society,
and, if applied dispassionately, cause an end to the bitter
conflicts in an America populated by persons of different
creeds, races, and social classes. In his belief that
greater rationality in public life could be combined with
respect for the tradition of individual rights, Hoover
conformed to the mainstream of progressive social thought
in the early 20th century.
As secretary of commerce Hoover was concerned with applying
rational principles in order to end conflict between labor
and business. But he was mostly preoccupied with trying to
bring the benefits of cooperative action to business owners
and farmers without destroying individual initiative. To
this end his department encouraged firms to join together
in trade associations and thereby develop and share vital
information about costs of production and distribution and
about available markets. Presidency
Hoover's views and policies were popular in the 1920s. In
1928, after Coolidge announced that he would not seek
reelection, Hoover launched a successful presidential
campaign, easily defeating the Democratic contender, Al
Smith. Hoover expressed the belief that ways had been found
to eliminate the scourges of poverty and that America was
entering a future of peace and ever-increasing economic
prosperity. After his election he turned his attention to
America's most noticeable economic problem, the
agricultural depression that had been chronic for nearly a
decade. The resulting Agricultural Marketing Act, passed by
Congress in 1929, promoted the idea of marketing
cooperatives among farmers to increase their efficiency
while the government purchased surplus commodities
until--it was intended--individual cooperative action could
maintain farm prosperity without government intervention.
The Wall Street crash of October 1929 and the onset of the
DEPRESSION OF THE 1930s shattered Hoover's dreams and his
popularity. He refused to mobilize fully the resources of
the federal government to save the collapsing economy. What
actions he did take, such as approving creation (1932) of
the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to loan funds to
ailing corporations, seemed too little too late. Hoover
feared that too much government intervention would destroy
the integrity and initiative of the individual citizen. The
"great humanitarian" lost his reputation as millions lost
their jobs and some were actually starving by the winter of
1932-33. Franklin Delano Roosevelt easily defeated Hoover
in 1932 by promising Americans a New Deal.
Later Years
In semiretirement Hoover criticized the policies of the New
Deal, saying that they made Americans dependent on the
government. He remained an important ideologist for the
Republican party. After World War II he served as
coordinator of the European Food Program (1946-47). He
subsequently headed two Hoover Commissions (1947-49 and
1953-55) on the organization of the executive branch of the
government. He recommended structural changes to make the
government more efficient and the executive branch more
accountable to the Congress and the public.
In retirement Hoover thus remained true to his principles
of efficiency and individual integrity. He died in New York
City on Oct. 20, 1964. 

Bibliography: Best, Gary D., Herbert Hoover: The
Postpresidential Years, 1933-1964 (1983); Burner, David,
Herbert Hoover (1979); Eckley, Wilton, 
Herbert Hoover

(1980); Fausold, Martin L., The Presidency of Herbert Hoover (1985); Fitzgerald, C. B., ed., Herbert C. Hoover (1988); Hawley, E. W., et al., Herbert Hoover and the Historians (1990); Hoover, Herbert, Addresses upon the American Road, 8 vols. (1936-61), and The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, 3 vols. (1951-52); Huthmacher, J. Joseph, and Sussman, Warren I., eds., Herbert Hoover and the Crisis of American Capitalism (1973); Lyons, Eugene, Herbert Hoover, a Biography (1964); Nash, G. H., The Life of Herbert Hoover, 2 vols. (1983-88); Smith, Gene, The Shattered Dream: Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression (1984); Smith, R. N., An Uncommon Man (1984); Sobel, Robert, Herbert Hoover at the Onset of the Great Depression, 1929-1930 (1975); Wilson, Joan Hoff, Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive (1975). NAME: Herbert Clark Hoover 31st President of the United States (1929-33) Born: Aug. 10, 1874, West Branch, Iowa Education: Stanford University (graduated 1895) Profession: Engineer Religious Affiliation: Society of Friends (Quaker) Marriage: Feb. 10, 1899, to Lou Henry (1875-1944) Children: Herbert Clark Hoover (1903-69); Alan Henry Hoover (1907- ) Political Affiliation: Republican Writings: The Challenge of Liberty (1934); America's First Crusade (1942); Memoirs (3 vols., 1951-52); The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson (1958) Died: Oct. 20, 1964, New York City Buried: West Branch, Iowa Vice-President: Charles Curtis Cabinet Members:^ Secretary of State: Henry L. Stimson Secretary of the Treasury: Andrew W. Mellon (1929-32); Ogden L. Mills (1932-33) Secretary of War: James W. Good (1929); Patrick J. Hurley (1929-33) Attorney General: William DeWitt Mitchell Postmaster General: Walter F. Brown Secretary of the Navy: Charles F. Adams Secretary of the Interior: Ray L. Wilbur Secretary of Agriculture: Arthur M. Hyde Secretary of Commerce: Robert P. Lamont (1929-32); Roy D. Chapin (1932-33) Secretary of Labor: James J. Davis (1929-30); William N. Doak (1930


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