An Iowa Boyhood
Jesse Hoover moved from Ohio with his father Eli in 1854. They traveled by river boat and covered wagon to a farm outside West Branch, Iowa, a small town founded by Quakers. In 1870, Jesse, now the town blacksmith, married Hulda Minthorn, a teacher from Ontario, Canada.
The Hoovers began a family in a small cottage by the Wapsinonoc Creek. Their first son Theodore (Tad, 1871) was followed on August 10, 1874 by another boy, Herbert Clark Hoover (Bert). On the occasion of his son's birth Jesse went through town declaring, "We have another General Grant in our house." Herbert's birth was followed in 1876 by the birth of a sister, Mary (May).
The Hoover children spent their early years growing up in West Branch, Iowa. West Branch provided both joys and hazards of life. The children could hike, explore, and swim as well as hunt for fossils and agate in the glacial gravel along the railroad tracks. Their Quaker upbringing forbade the Hoover boys from carrying a gun, so they learned to hunt for rabbit and prairie chickens with bow and arrow. They learned these skills from young Indian boys who were attending a local government training school. Willow poles, butcher string lines and hooks that cost a penny apiece provided Herbert Hoover with sunfish and catfish. There was also Cook's Hill for sledding on home-made sleds.
Their fun was tempered by the possibility of natural disaster and disease. The Iowa summer sun could scorch crops; prairie storms might wash out spring plantings or level a dwelling; the relentless winter favored typhus, diphtheria and pneumonia. Herbert Hoover's own memories give a glimpse into his childhood. He remembered trips into the country with his father Jesse. He also recalls as a small boy getting stuck in mud while crossing an unpaved road during a particularly rainy summer. "Papa's little stick-in-the-mud," his father called him as he lifted Bert to freedom.
A lifelong scar on the bottom of his foot reminded Bert of the time he walked into his father's blacksmith shop barefooted, and stepped on a glowing ember. He also recalled his father's farm-implement shop which his father established after blacksmithing. At this shop there was a machine for putting barbs on wire. After this was done, the wires were dipped into hot tar to retard rust. Bert remembers trying an experiment whereby he put a lighted stick into the bubbling tar and caused huge clouds of smoke which brought the whole town running.
West Branch, where Herbert Hoover spent his first eleven years, practiced a strict Quaker morality. The Hoovers grew up within a sect that made its own affirmation of a rational, usable world. [The Quakers valued a blunt plainness. They believed that people will work well together, and that through rational discussion, compromise was possible.] They were dedicated to peace, and the belief that good common reason and strategic planning provide one with an uncluttered conscience.
The Hoover family figured prominently in the town's religious life. Hulda Hoover was a recorded minister who frequently spoke out at the Friends' meetings. Her faith was expressed in temperance and charitable activities. Herbert Hoover recalled that "the Friends had always held to education, thrift, and individual enterprise. In consequence of plain living and hard work poverty has never been their lot." He also recalled that the long hours of Quaker meetings waiting for the spirit to move someone provided him with strong training in the virtue of patience.
On December 13, 1880, Jesse Hoover died at the age of 34. Hulda and the children remained in West Branch, where she earned money working as a seamstress. She occasionally boarded Herbert with Uncle Will Miles. This gave her time to extend her godly pursuits as clerk of meeting, teacher of Sunday School, and as a member of a committee of correspondence charged with sending news of Iowa Friends to England and other parts of the world. Hulda composed poems and songs which she shared in Sunday School. By the Quaker method of common consent, her gift in the ministry was acknowledged, and so she traveled and spoke throughout Iowa. A return trip home by foot from a Springdale revival meeting changed a chest cold into pneumonia complicated by typhoid fever.
On February 24, 1884, she died at 35. Hulda Hoover left more than $2000 for the education of her children. Lawrie Tatum became legal guardian for the children. The children were separated: May went to live with Grandmother Minthorn, Tad went to Hubbard, Iowa and later to Newberg, Oregon with Uncle John Minthorn, and Herbert stayed on a farm outside of West Branch, Iowa for about a year with his uncle Allan Hoover. In 1885, Herbert went to live with the Minthorn family in Oregon. Uncle Henry John Minthorn was a doctor in the Quaker settlement of Newberg, Oregon. His only son had died, and so the Minthorns asked for Herbert to be sent to them.
Bert traveled by train with a family by the name of Hammil, who were emigrating, and had agreed to look after him on the trip. This was not his first time out of West Branch. Herbert had spent a few months with an uncle, Laban Miles, on the Osage Indian Reservation in Oklahoma Territory. He had also spent time at an Uncle's prairie farm in western Iowa where he lived in a sod house, and helped break new ground.
When Bert arrived in Oregon he was, "put to school and the chores." His work at the Minthorn farm included feeding the team of ponies twice a day, hitching them, milking the cow, and splitting wood. He attended the Friends Pacific Academy and excelled in mathematics. After graduating from school, Herbert moved with his uncle to Salem, Oregon to help open a real estate office for his uncle and his partners. Here he was an office-boy, but he learned to type, keep books and was involved in general office routine. At night he attended a local business college.
The Minthorns wanted Herbert enrolled in a Quaker College. His brother Tad was attending William Penn in Iowa, and Bert was to attend Earlham or Haverford colleges. However Bert had been urged to attend the new tuition-free university in California, Stanford, by a visiting mining engineer, Mr. Robert Brown. He had decided that he wanted to become an engineer, and since Earlham offered no engineering courses, he wanted to go to Stanford. Dr. Joseph Swain, a noted mathematics teacher, and also a Quaker, had come to Portland, Oregon to recruit and administer entrance examinations to students. Bert needed some tutoring in all but mathematics and so left for Palo Alto in the summer of 1891.
Herbert Hoover entered Stanford with what was later known as the pioneer class in October, 1891. His classes gave him a good background in geology while his student life centered on business. Hoover set up a laundry and a newspaper route, which brought him income. He also worked for Dr. Branner, who presided over the Department of Geology. Bert was paid thirty dollars a month. Various other jobs and summer employment in Arkansas and California with the United States Geological Survey helped Herbert earn his way through Stanford with no loans. In addition to his work, he was elected treasurer of the junior class, and was the manager of the football and baseball teams.
During his senior year at Stanford Herbert Hoover met his future wife, Lou Henry. She was also a geology student whose love of fishing and the outdoors paralleled that of Herbert Hoover's enthusiasm for these outdoor activities. In May 1895 Hoover graduated with a degree in geology. He spent time learning the mining business from the bottom up--he was employed in the deepest level of the Reward Gold Mine, near Nevada City, California. He worked a ten-hour shift, seven days a week at the rate of $1.50-2.50 a day. He followed this job with one at the Mayflower Mine.
Herbert Hoover's big break came when he took a job as a typist with Louis Janin, an expert on western mining. Mr. Janin appointed Hoover assistant manager of the Steeple Mine at Carlisle, New Mexico, and later an investigator of hydraulic installations for gravel mines in Colorado. In the fall of 1896 Janin recommended Hoover for a position with the British mining firm of Bewick, Moreing and Company. They were looking for Americans skilled in gold-mining practices to work in western Australia.
Herbert Hoover was slightly worried about his young age and limited experience, but Janin encouraged him to take the position. By March of 1897, Hoover was on his first trip east of the Mississippi in order to sail for London, and meet his new employers. By May of 1897 he arrived in western Australia. From there, a railroad journey took him inland to Coolgardie, described by Hoover as a place which suffered from "red dust, black flies, and white heat." Local whirlwinds--called willie willies--could carry away a flimsy house in a cloud of dust. Later the mining headquarters were moved about 20 miles to Kalgoorlie which Hoover found no better.
His duties included sampling, surveying, and evaluating mines that were offered to his firm for purchase. Hoover traveled sometimes by camel which he said was "an even less successful creation than a horse" to mines with names like IOU, Siberia, and Never Never . Hoover's big mine find was the wealthy Sons of Gwalia Mine. He worked on all sorts of technical problems, and rose higher in the management ranks of the company during his time in Australia. Charles Moreing thought Herbert Hoover could help with the firm's fortunes in China, and so he offered Herbert a chance to go to China with a better salary. This in turn caused Herbert to consider his personal life, and in 1898 he cabled Lou Henry with a proposal of marriage. Herbert traveled to China by way of the United States. He stopped in Monterey, California, Lou's hometown, long enough for the couple to be wed. On that very afternoon they took the train to meet their steamer which would sail them to China.
Herbert Hoover learned a lot about technology and management in Australia. He would put this knowledge to good use in China. In China he would also manage various mine resources, plus deal with major economic problems, and a rebellion. Herbert Hoover's dual role would be as the Chinese government's resident chief engineer of the Bureau of Mines for Chihli and Jehol provinces, and Bewick Moreing's representative in China.
At the very time Herbert Hoover went to China, a nationalist reaction to the previous plunder and forced territorial concessions by Europeans threatened to endanger both foreign interests and native development of natural resources. He was constantly frustrated in his dealings with the Chinese government, and before very much could be accomplished, the Empress Dowager of China had the young Emperor thrown into prison. The insurrection known as the Boxer Rebellion broke out. The Boxers (Society of Righteous Harmonious Fists) believed they possessed supernatural powers that protected them from harm. They planned to totally destroy every foreign thing in China. This included railways, telegraphs, houses and people. They were also out to exterminate any Chinese associated with foreigners or Christianity.
The Hoovers, along with hundreds of foreign families, were trapped in Tientsin, protected only by a few soldiers from several foreign countries. The Hoovers were in the thick of the city's defense. Herbert directed the building of barricades and he joined the fire fighters. He directed the provision of food and water to six hundred anti-Boxer Chinese who had taken refuge in the compound. This would be a portent of what was to come for Herbert Hoover. The rebellion had begun in June 1900, and by August with the arrival of relief forces, Lou and Herbert Hoover were able to leave for England on a German mail boat.
After the rebellion was put down, Herbert Hoover returned to China to manage his firm's interests there, and managed to turn a losing business into a prospering one. Within a year he was offered a junior partnership in the Bewick Moreing company. He said, "I was then 27 years old and delighted to get out of China into a larger engineering world." (Memoirs pg. 65).
Between 1902 and 1907 Hoover and his family circled the globe 5 times. Herbert Junior was born in London in 1903, and within 5 weeks he was packed in a basket as his family set off on a world journey. Hoover traveled to oversee other people's work and evaluate business arrangements offered to his company. He wore many hats. He acted as a financier, promoter, geologist, engineer, and metallurgist. Hoover was also gaining fame within his profession. People spoke of "Young Hoover" or the "great engineer." London was the center of the metal-mining world at this time, and the Hoovers made it their home away from home. Their second son Allan was born in London in 1907.
In 1908 Herbert left the Bewick, Moreing firm to begin his own business and engineering firm. He worked at being a reorganizer. He financed new projects and straightened out tangled corporate finances. He also speculated in mining projects. During this time Herbert and Lou Hoover took on a project of monumental proportions. They began the translation of a 16th century Latin text on mining, "De Re Metallica." Their product earned them an award from the Mining and Metallurgy Association.
World War I
In August, 1914, the Hoovers were living in London. As war broke out in Europe, thousands of American tourists flooded into London trying to book passage back to the states. The US Embassy asked Hoover to help with these stranded American travelers. Hoover headed the Committee of American Residents in London for Assistance to American Travellers. This committee accommodated over 120,000 Americans. Besides loaning stranded Americans funds, the committee helped get them passage on ships, and in the meantime helped them get food and lodging in England. This committee made loans and IOUs totaling over one million dollars. All but $300 of this amount was repaid.
In the meantime, German soldiers had marched into Belgium. Tiny Belgium chose to fight back. While under German occupation, food became short since the Germans refused to supply food to civilians and the Belgians customarily imported a majority of their food. It didn't take too long for the country to be starving. The Germans had taken what little food there was in Belgium to feed their own men. The British navy was blockading the ports of the continent. It took some negotiating but it was possible to get a guarantee from the Germans that they would not interfere with food that would be brought into Belgium by a Belgian Relief Committee. The next step was to allow food to go through the British blockade. This was a stickier problem. Each week new delegations from various Belgian cities would come to London to try and secure food for the starving cities. The British were more afraid of feeding German soldiers than they were of Belgians starving to death.
With a call from Walter Hines Page, the American Ambassador, and some conversations with Emile Francqui, a Belgian Banker, Hoover decided to make the Belgian cause his personal crusade. This commitment breathed life into the Committee for Relief of Belgium. Hoover was faced with many obstacles: he would have to find a food supply great enough to feed 10 million people every day; he would have to find trucks, ships and trains to carry the tons of food; he would have to find money to pay for the food and the shipping; he would have to find someone to distribute the food so that all got a fair share; he would have to work on the problems of the German army trying to take the food, and the British navy trying to stop the food from reaching enemy territory. Faced with all of these seemingly insurmountable problems, Hoover dug in and did the job. Hoover relied on his three greatest strengths to pull off this monumental task: his technical ability, his practicality, and his morality.
The conditions in Belgium and Herbert Hoover's ability to do something about it presented a moral imperative. Hoover's policy was to accept no salary or remuneration and many of his colleagues followed his example. The CRB (Committee for Relief of Belgium) would organize the charity of the world through public opinion, get an America volunteer staff in Belgium for the relief work, and would assure the Allies and Germany that the CRB was a neutral effort. All of the problems that Hoover faced were new. Never in history was there a situation like the Belgian tragedy. Through the four years of the war Hoover's CRB fed eleven million people in Belgium and northern France, and he collected more than 1 billion dollars to finance the operations.
When the CRB found that growing children needed a special diet to fend off disease, they invented a special cookie containing all the essential foods needed for growing children. This was served every day with milk and a stew to over 2.5 million children. For Hoover, his greatest joy was to see the children growing cheerful and noisy again. The American people were behind the Belgian relief. States even sent state food ships to Belgium. Shiploads of clothes went too. Hoover had requested that an accounting firm keep the books and records for the CRB so that at no time in the future anyone could say that the committee either stole or made money from the relief effort. When the auditors presented a final report on the finances of the CRB it showed that less than of one half of one percent of the CRB money had been used for administrative expenses. In a message from Walter Hines Page, the American ambassador to England to President Woodrow Wilson, Page describes Herbert Hoover as, "Simple, modest, energetic little man who began his career in California and will end it in Heaven, and he doesn't want anyone's thanks." This really sums up the way in which Hoover operated the CRB for the duration of the war. He gave a personal commitment to the Belgian cause and he wasn't looking for any platitudes from it. He refused various groups' honors for his relief work.
U.S. Food Administrator
America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917 and President Wilson called Herbert Hoover home to take charge of food organization in America. Hoover was appointed U.S. Food Administrator. America had to provide food for her own armies and the other Allies, for the Allied peoples and for the American people at home. Herbert Hoover saw the effort as a willingness of the people to serve the nation voluntarily. He called his program food conservation, but many Americans called it Hooverizing. There were wheatless Wednesdays, meatless Mondays, as examples.
Hoover had faith that the American people would exhibit voluntary cooperation in the matter for food conservation. He didn't want laws to regulate food in America. Hoover's plan was that American homes would have to eat in such a way as to leave more food to be shipped abroad. He appealed to housewives to conserve food and eliminate waste. Signs and posters proclaimed, "Food Will Win the War." Hoover's program reduced domestic consumption of food by 15% without rationing. For the farmer there were fair prices for agricultural products and guaranteed markets for surplus. The result was that U.S. food shipments tripled. He kept the American armies fed and was able to build up surplus stores of food to prevent a post-war famine in Europe.
At the war's end President Wilson sent Herbert Hoover to Europe to survey how much food would be needed to fight off starvation. The ARA (American Relief Administration) would shortly become the major source of food for 300 million people from 21 countries in Europe and the Middle East. Hoover could not convince the allied powers that food should be provided for Germany, even with the sound argument that stunted bodies and deformed minds in the next generation would be a poor foundation on which to rebuild civilization. Many months were lost before the Allies could come to an agreement to allow the Germans to be fed.
The ARA officially ended on June 30, 1919, but it was evident to Herbert Hoover that the children would still suffer, so he devised the ARA European Children's Fund as a private charitable organization. It fed children through the summer of 1921. The European Children's Fund was supported by American donations and by sale of Food Draft Packets. This was the origin of CARE packs.
Russia had been offered food relief in 1919 but it refused the terms of the ARA which stated that an American was to be in charge of all food stations to make sure food was not distributed on a political or religious basis. By 1921 Russia was in a severe famine, due to the struggle against Germany, its civil war and a severe drought, and so it accepted the ARA terms. When complaints about aiding Bolshevism reached Herbert Hoover's ears, he responded, "Twenty million people are starving, whatever their politics they should be fed." Herbert Hoover was the administrator of world relief. He was compelled by his compassion, his conscience, and his pride in his workmanship to commit himself fully to this task.
After Hoover's outstanding accomplishments in Europe, he returned to the U.S. with his reputation secure as a Great Engineer--the practical idealist. Newspapers called him "a leading American." Hoover read this acclaim skeptically, and proceeded to open mining offices in San Francisco and New York. He and Mrs. Hoover began construction on a home that Mrs. Hoover had been designing for years. The house was planned for outdoor living, and was set on a hill overlooking the Stanford campus.
Secretary of Commerce
In the election of 1920 the American public elected Warren G. Harding to the Presidency. His campaign emphasized "a return to normalcy," and that's what people wanted. Soon after the election, Mr. Harding told Mr. Hoover that he would like to have him in the cabinet either as Secretary of the Interior or as Secretary of Commerce. Hoover chose the Commerce post because he thought that in that position he could carry out some of the ideas he had for making that department a vital contributor to every aspect of the nation's economic life.
Hoover reorganized the Commerce Department. His goal was to transform the department into a service organization. His work was guided by efficiency, standardization and the elimination of waste. He kept in mind the delicate line between government power and private enterprise. He worked to gain the cooperation of people and businesses by offering guidance, information and service that they could use. He developed foreign markets for American products. He also worked to eliminate industrial waste ( by this he meant time-wasting strikes, the waste of manpower and money in unemployment; the waste of effort and money in careless planning, to name a few). One early effort was to standardize and simplify sizes and styles of thousands of consumer items. For example, every combination of nuts and bolts had different thread sizes. Manufacturers were making too many sizes and kinds of everything. As industry began to understand the savings involved in setting standards that would apply throughout the industry, one after another asked for guidance from the Commerce Department. Standard sizes were adopted for paper, auto tires, nuts and bolts, plumbing, window frames, and many more items.
Hoover developed major projects for navigation, irrigation of dry lands, electrical power, and flood control. Other sections of the Department of Commerce that Hoover worked with included: the Bureau of Standards which researched safety standards in such items as elevators and auto brakes; the census which provided statistics that could be useful to businesses; the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce which worked to develop markets at home and abroad; the Bureau of Lighthouses; and the Bureau of Fisheries. Regulation of the radio and the airways came under Commerce jurisdiction. As the new air industry developed, Hoover held a conference on aviation to promote codes and regulations. He was instrumental in the development of the Air Commerce Act. Under the direction of Herbert Hoover the Commerce department expanded its capacity to provide businesses with information and advice.
One interesting facet of Hoover's commerce days was the organization of Better Homes in America. This division gave the public new ideas and improvements for their homes. Hoover was always ready to serve children. He became president of the American Child Health Organization, and he raised funds to promote health education in schools and communities. He formulated The Child's Bill of Rights, worked unceasingly for good health and hygiene practices for children, and supported immunization and vaccination against small pox and diphtheria. Milk and hot lunches were a priority in areas where undernourished children were located. In 1923, President Harding died, and Calvin Coolidge became president. Hoover continued in his position as Secretary of Commerce. During his tenure in Commerce, both of his sons left to attend Stanford University.
In the spring of 1927 one of the greatest floods in history broke the banks and levees of the Mississippi River. Water was everywhere from Cairo, Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. Over a million people were driven from their homes, two million acres of crops, thousands of cattle and millions of dollars in buildings and property were destroyed. The governors of the six states along the Mississippi asked for Herbert Hoover in this emergency. President Coolidge sent him to mobilize state and local authorities, militia, army engineers, Coast Guard, weather bureaus, and the Red Cross. His work in the flood brought Herbert Hoover to the front page of papers everywhere. He also discovered while working on the flood problems that he might improve the general health of the people in the southern states. He set up health units, with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, to work in the flooded regions for a year. These workers had stamped out malaria, pellagra and typhoid from many countries. Herbert Hoover also headed a drive which collected 15 million dollars for the Red Cross.
As soon as Calvin Coolidge announced that he did not choose to run for reelection in 1928, Hoover was inundated with letters and telegrams urging him to run for president. The Democrats had nominated Alfred E. Smith, the first Catholic to run for the presidency. Hoover and Smith were in accord on many issues of the 1928 campaign: reforms in child welfare, business practice, and the prison system; the better organization of Federal Government, and the development of water resources and oil conservation. They differed on their farm policies and they differed on Prohibition. Smith favored a plan which would fix farm prices for produce and dump surplus products abroad. This would mean that the government controlled the farmer's distribution and production. Al Smith campaigned for the repeal of Prohibition, the constitutional amendment that prohibited the use of alcoholic beverages. Hoover didn't think that the Constitution was the proper place for the law, but once it was there it was the duty of the president to enforce the Constitution. Speaking was hard for Hoover, and being before a crowd was an ordeal. He seemed stiff and monotonous before big crowds, and he was shy with strangers. However in 1928, the nation had great self confidence, and Herbert Hoover represented the best of technical proficiency that acted on humane needs that the people saw as their future. Hoover was elected by one of the biggest majorities in the history of the Republican party. His Vice President was Charles Curtis.
On a rainy March day, Herbert Hoover took the oath of office as the 31st president of the United States. He brought to the presidency a wide range of interests, information, and experience. He banked his presidential salary and gave it entirely to charity. From the day Hoover organized the Belgian Relief in 1914, until his death fifty years later, he never accepted for his private use any payment for public service. He had reached the highest office in which Herbert Hoover felt he could make the greatest contribution to his own country.
When Hoover became president, there was a frenzy of activity on the stock market. People were buying stocks by borrowing money, or they were buying stocks on margin ( buying with only a portion of the money down, and the rest out of profits). This had been going on since the early 1920's and Herbert Hoover knew this gambling in the stock market was dangerous. Banks were also speculating in the stock market with their depositors' money, and there were no laws to stop them. Soon after Hoover's inauguration, the market went up and up. Most of the money for stock market gambling was being borrowed through the banks, and Hoover asked for an examination of the banking system along with laws to reform and strengthen the system.
Hoover tried to stop the speculation, but no one listened. Privately, he tried to convince the more influential bankers to stop making loans to brokers who were recklessly encouraging speculation. His appeals to the Federal Reserve, Congress and Governor Roosevelt (to propose stiffer regulation of the New York stock exchange) went unheeded.
Another pressing problem for the new president was the farm problem. Farmers wanted the government to buy the surplus that they grew, at fair market prices and dispose of them, but they didn't want any control over production by the government. Hoover believed that no government agency should be involved in the buying and selling and price-fixing of any products. This would lead to greater surpluses and government control. He believed the farmers could organize to fight their own battles and the government's role was to help them organize. In June Congress passed the Agricultural Marketing Act, and established the Federal Farm Board. This organization would help farmers form marketing organizations, establish associations for storage, and help stabilize market conditions by holding surpluses off the market to wait for more favorable prices. It would help farmers help themselves. Hoover also proposed tariffs on agricultural products. The taxes would be imposed to protect industry and agriculture in the United States from lower-priced overseas products where living standards and wages were lower, and also to raise revenue for the government.
Seven months after Hoover was inaugurated, the stock market crashed. The president tried giving statements of confidence to the people. This would be a new kind of disaster that Hoover must pioneer. Hoover was blamed for much of what was going wrong, and people were losing confidence in him. He had ideas which he hoped to implement through voluntary cooperation of business and industrial leaders. By the spring of 1930, the economy was starting to recover. In August a big drought struck the Great Plains states. A million farmers watched the skies for rain that never fell and they saw their crops die under a blazing sun. Hoover was working to ease the depression while the Democrats were saying Hoover caused it and they added that the drought was just another part of the depression. Hoover saw the relief coming from the state and local municipalities, which would rely on volunteers, but a few months later people were clamoring for the President to offer direct federal aid to the people. Because this was so contrary to Hoover's belief of helping people to help themselves, he at first refused to promote direct federal help because he saw it as a way which would lead to political corruption and the weakening of the morale of the American public.
In the summer of 1931, Hoover began to allow more indirect aid to drought stricken farmers. By the following spring direct aid was being widely distributed in the form of foodstuffs and cotton cloth. By this time there was an argument over everything Hoover tried to do to fight the depression. He tried public works projects for which he was blamed for extravagance in government spending. When he refused to support a bill to give the Red Cross millions of dollars they said they did not need, the President was called callous about suffering. But Hoover carried on with his practical, problem-solving nature, hiding the hurt that he surely felt as people blamed him for all of society's ills.
Hoover's day at the White House began with a game of medicine ball at 7:30. The game was like volleyball with an 8 pound ball tossed over a 10 foot net on a court. It was scored like tennis. This was Hoover's daily exercise. After breakfast he would work for half an hour in his office on letters, papers or writing an address. He had appointments every 15 minutes for the rest of the morning. Lunch always included guests, to discuss business. After lunch he returned to writing and appointments. He left the office at 6 pm. Dinner always meant guests, friends or official visitors.
By the spring of 1931, things were looking better with the depression and unemployment, but Europe exploded in an economic crisis. This of course affected the U.S. The American banking system was so involved with Europe through war debts, bonds, loans and bank deposits abroad and European deposits in America, that whatever happened on one side of the ocean affected the other as well. Hoover presented programs to reform the banking program, to expand the public works across the country, and to create the Reconstruction Finance Corporation which would make government loans to save banks, farmers, railways, and businesses from bankruptcy. Congress passed his RFC legislation, but rejected his banking legislation. The RFC performed impressively. This agency was Hoover's chief contribution to recovery, and in establishing it he put the Federal Government into the business of business regulation, something he had been entirely opposed to when he had taken office. In making this decision he was acting swiftly to counter the dangers in the only manner which would work--through the federal government.
By the summer of 1932, the depression reached its lowest point. There were 12 million people unemployed and 18 million on relief. It was a Presidential election year. Without much enthusiasm, the Republicans nominated Herbert Hoover again, while the Democrats chose Franklin D. Roosevelt.
During Hoover's Administration, he completed plans to build the Grand Coulee Dam, and to control flooding along the Mississippi. He also signed a treaty with Canada to create the St. Lawrence Waterway. Under his Administration the acreage of national forests and parks increased by 5 million acres. Airmail service had been reorganized, passenger service on airlines had tripled and cost per mile for air travel was cut by 80 percent. He also opened airmail to South America. He had worked out the engineering of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and used RFC funds to build it. He worked for legislation to protect children and he wrote a Children's Charter calling for the protection of the rights of every child regardless of race, color or situation.
He had made reforms in the proceedings of justice and in bankruptcy practice to help small businessmen and homeowners. He reorganized the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover (not related to Herbert Hoover). He designed legislation for extensive reform of criminals. Hoover had made three high-caliber appointments to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and Justices Owen Roberts, and Benjamin Cardozo.
In Foreign affairs he led the United States to greater international cooperation toward world peace, with the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine. This document provided that the U.S. would not recognize territories gained by force. He developed a Good Neighbor policy with Latin America, and withdrew U.S. troops from Nicaragua and Haiti.But these achievements were not dramatic enough for a successful campaign. Roosevelt was a new man with a charming personality, an infectious smile and a golden voice. The American people tired of the depression and upset with the slowness of the recovery were charmed by the gaiety and confidence of FDR. They elected him President in 1932.
Life After the White House
The Hoovers went back to live in the house they had built at Stanford. Hoover became chairman of the board of Boys' Clubs of America. He always had special concern for the children of the world, and he took special interest in the boys of the city streets. Hoover gave over 25 years of service to the Boys' Clubs.When war broke out in Europe as Hitler invaded Poland, Hoover, as a private citizen, established the Polish Relief Commission. For two years the commission fed 300,000 children in the German occupied territory of Poland until the war stopped the private effort. For the duration of the Second World War, Hoover and his relief committee fed the small democracies: Belgium, Holland, Finland, and Poland.
The Hoover Tower was dedicated at Stanford in 1941. It housed the Institution on War, Revolution and Peace which Hoover had founded in 1919. The tower held the largest collection in the world of documents on the Communist, Fascist, Nazi and Socialist revolutions. In January, 1944, Lou Hoover died from a heart attack. The Hoovers had been living in the Waldorf Astoria in New York City at this time.
It was 1946 and postwar famine threatened Europe again. The President, Harry Truman, asked Herbert Hoover to head the Famine Emergency Commission. He would study the world's crisis and prepare a program to deal with it. Hoover traveled 500 miles through 25 countries in 57 days . Hoover organized the food of the world to sustain several hundred million people until the next harvest. He was once again working at a task on which he was the expert. In the spring of 1947, Congress asked Hoover to undertake a study of the reorganization of the executive branch of the federal government: to improve economy and efficiency of federal agencies, to get rid of overlapping bureaus and services, and to define the executive functions, services, and activities.
The Hoover Commission spent 15 months in research and then presented a clearer picture of how the Federal Government should operate. It offered 280 detailed individual recommendations for change, many of which were implemented. President Eisenhower had Herbert Hoover undertake a second Hoover Commission. This time it considered the policies and functions of the Federal Government, what the government should and should not do.
He spent the next years writing articles and books. On his 88th birthday the Hoover Presidential Library was dedicated in West Branch, Iowa. Herbert Hoover died on October 20, 1964. He had given 50 years of his life to service for humankind. "Being a politician is a poor profession. Being a public servant is a noble one." Quoted from Herbert Hoover "On Growing Up: Letters from and to American Children;" edited by Timothy Walch, William Morrow & Co., 1990.