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Presidency

Hoover and the Teleprompter

A stereotype frequently attributed to Herbert Hoover is that he was cold and aloof. He did not have an official White House photographer (that would come with his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt) and refused to have his family and private life as fair game for media coverage. Unlike later Presidents that used the media to portray warm images of them as husbands, fathers, and caring individuals for the American public, Hoover believed that his performance in office was more important than crafting a public image largely based on carefully staged events with plenty of photo opportunities.

One admiring fan was disturbed by the stilted appearance of President Hoover in newsreels. Shelly O'Neal from Brooklyn, New York sent the following suggestions to Hoover's personal secretary, Lawrence Richey, on May 6, 1931:

"Our president has a handsome face; in its outlines of strength, kindliness and sincerity but takes a very unflattering talking picture. This is due I feel to the necessity of having to take his eyes from his audience to refer to his text which I appreciate is essential in making talking pictures.
"I am taking the liberty of offering the following suggestion in connection with making of studio talking pictures which I believe he can use to telling effect in his coming campaign.
The suggestion will make possible the elimination of the text from the picture, will enable him to look directly at or shift his gaze from left to right or vice versa and thereby give a more definite impression to the audience that he is talking to them and not reading his speech. It will also eliminate those side views which do not do him justice.
"The following rough sketch I hope explains the idea:
1) Mr. Hoover with apologies for the art
2) Movie camera
3) A rolling screen 10 ft. wide with his text printed in large easily readable letters.
"This screen can be operated by an adjustable speed motor that can be adjusted to a suitable speed for operating screen at desired readable speed.
"Screen can also be mounted on flanged wheels that operate on a track that describes a semicircle. Screen can be made to move back and to as per following sketch: [sketch]
"I hope the idea or something to accomplish the items listed can be used; and also that we will have our capable president in the White House for another term."

Teleprompter 1 Teleprompter 2
O'Neal's sketches

Mr. O’Neal was suggesting a crude prototype of what would become the mechanical teleprompter, perfected by Hubert Schlafly in 1950. Though O'Neal's proposal was not pursued in 1931, Hoover used a Schlafly teleprompter at the 1952 Chicago Republican National Convention, without much success. But later presidents became much more proficient in its use, making the teleprompter an indispensible presidential media tool.


Economic Stimulus - Suggestions from the People


During his Administration, President Hoover received thousands of personal letters from ordinary American throughout the country. Some writers, of course, were seeking a special favors or commercial gain, but many people just wanted to offer information or advice they thought would help the nation's Chief Executive. There was no topic of greater concern to the general public than unemployment as the nation became mired in the Great Depression, and Mr. Hoover received numerous suggestions for reviving the economy.

R. C. Bernau, a jeweler (and optometrist!) from Greensboro, North Carolina, sent a letter criticizing President Hoover's necktie and lack of a stick pin. "I am sure prosperity would start with us Jewelers if all the prominent men like you would wear a stick pin," he advised. Hoover's secretary thanked Mr. Bernau for his suggestion, but Mr. Hoover made no changes to his wardrobe or accessories.
Letter from R.C. Bernau

Mr. Bernau was not alone in his concern for Hoover's neckwear. Harry J. Blake of Blake & Kendall Co. of Boston, Massachusetts sent the President a wool necktie just before Christmas, 1931. While he did not suggest that Hoover's personal wardrobe could revive the economy, he did note the recent success of a nation-wide advertising campaign promoting wool, and described the enclosed necktie as a "contribution, in a small way, to its further stimulation."
Letter from Harry J. Blake

History will never know if sartorial choices may have altered the course of the Depression.


Lincoln Portrait Fraud

Last month, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum presented a program by art conservator Barry Bauman entitled "The Demise of Mary Lincoln: An Artistic Conspiracy." In short, Mr. Bauman discovered that a painting that had hung for years in the Illinois governor's mansion, which was believed to be an original portrait of Mrs. Lincoln painted by Francis Carpenter, was actually a forgery perpetuated during the 1920s by a swindler named Lew Bloom.

President Hoover deeply admired Abraham Lincoln. He looked to Lincoln as a model for his Presidency and often referred to him in his speeches, and as a result received large volumes of mail concerning anything Lincoln-related. This included offers from individuals or businesses who hoped that President Hoover - either personally or on behalf of the United States - would be interested in purchasing Lincoln artifacts or memorabilia.

In May, 1929, just weeks after Lew Bloom had revealed the "rediscovered" portrait of Mary Lincoln, President Hoover received a letter from Walter Ehrich of the respected Ehrich Galleries in New York. Mr. Ehrich offered to sell Mr. Hoover another painting from Bloom's collection, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln also supposedly painted by Francis Carpenter. Ehrich included a copy of Bloom's affidavit concerning the Abraham Lincoln portrait, which was virtually identical to the statements he had made concerning the Mary Lincoln portrait.

 

Lincoln portrait

Affidavit

The asking price of the painting? $35,000. Far more than the estimated $2,000 to $3,000 that Bloom had gotten for the Mary Lincoln portrait. There is no record that Mr. Hoover responded to the offer, undoubtedly because he was unwilling to pay that much out of his own pocket, or to ask Congress for an appropriation. Was the Abraham Lincoln portrait a forgery? In light of the information discovered by Bauman and his colleagues, any painting sold by Bloom was most likely fraudulent. But its subsequent fate and present whereabouts are unknown.


Carribbean Vacation

President Hoover relaxing on the deck of USS Arizona.

President Hoover relaxing on the deck of USS Arizona.

In March, 1931, Herbert Hoover decided to take a Caribbean cruise. He had taken only one brief vacation during the first two years of his Presidency, and badly needed some rest. The battleship Arizona had just finished a two year overhaul and was scheduled to make a "shakedown" cruise off the east coast, so the President decided to go along for the ride. (Yes, this was the same Arizona that met her tragic fate at Pearl Harbor, ten years later.)

As usual, Hoover could not resist mixing work with pleasure, and arranged to stop in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was accompanied by Secretary of War Patrick Hurley and Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur, a few aides, and 25 members of the press. (Mrs. Hoover stayed in Washington.) Arizona left from Old Point Comfort, Virgina, on March 19, 1931. For four days, Hoover relaxed on board, taking long naps and playing medicine ball on deck. In the evenings he watched movies with members of the crew.

President Hoover and Governor Roosevelt received a ticker tape parade in San Juan.

President Hoover and Governor Roosevelt received a ticker tape parade in San Juan.

On March 23, Hoover landed at Ponce and traveled overland by car to San Juan, where he addressed the Puerto Rican legislature. Puerto Rico was still recovering from a devastating hurricane in 1928 in addition to years of economic distress, and the new governor, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., had made great progress. He had spearheaded private fundraising in the U.S. and lobbied repeatedly before an indifferent Congress. He had also become very popular with the natives because he had worked very hard to learn Spanish and began his speeches with the phrase "we Puerto Ricans." President Hoover's visit gave him the opportunity to see first hand the problems and progress that Gov. Roosevelt had described

On March 24, Hoover crossed the island again and rejoined Arizona at Ponce. Hoover's second stop was the U.S. Virgin Islands, which had been purchased for use as a naval base during World War I. A week before Hoover's visit, his order transferring the administration of the islands from the Navy to the Interior Department went into effect, and the new governor, Dr. Paul M. Pearson, had just arrived. On March 25, Hoover landed for a few hours at St. Thomas. The U.S. Virgin Islands were in worse shape than Puerto Rico - their shaky economy had been almost entirely dependent on producing rum, which was outlawed when Prohibition went into effect ten years earlier. Politically, it was impossible at that time to consider allowing the resumption of rum production, so Mr. Hoover concluded that the only option was to ask Congress for increased economic assistance for the islands.

Presdient Hoover with Secretaries Hurley and Wilbur and an unidentified naval officer in St. Thomas.

President Hoover with Secretaries Hurley and Wilbur and an unidentified naval officer in St. Thomas.

The return journey, like the outward leg, was warm and sunny. When the President landed at Hampton Roads on March 30, he was visibly refreshed and tanned, and was ready to get back to work. The press contingent on the trip had enjoyed their vacation too. At the single press conference Hoover held during the cruise, he had admonished them, "These are days to sleep and I do not think that anyone expect you to send many news dispatches...I think 3 days of sleep would do us all good."

 


Inauguration Report

Inauguration March 4, 1929 Inauguration March 4, 1929


Seventy-three years ago this week Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as the 31st President of the United States on March 4, 1929. The basic facts are well known: it was a rainy day; the major topics of Hoover's inaugural address were foreign policy and the enforcement of Prohibition; Chief Justice (and former-President)William Howard Taft muffed the oath of office. But for a detailed, behind-the-scenes view of the event, the official Report of the Inaugural Committee is a treasure trove of information.

Keep in mind that there were (and even today are) actually two inaugural committees. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which is comprised of members of Congress, is in charge of all the activities at the Capitol building. All of the other activities and events are planned by a separate Inaugural Committee. In 1929, this committee was organized by the Republican Party and consisted of about 200 prominent individuals from Washington society.

Here are some interesting trivia from the report:
The fireworks display, which was delayed until March 6 due to the rainy weather, cost $3,000 and was reported to be the most magnificent ever seen in Washington.

Henry K. Bush-Brown, a local sculptor, was commissioned to design a commemorative medallion, which was then struck by the U. S. Mint. Two were struck in gold and given to Mr. Hoover and Mr. Curtis. One thousand were struck in bronze and were sold for $2.50 each.

First Aid stations were set up with the assistance of the Red Cross in ten locations around the Capitol, and the report lists all the doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers who served on duty. Ninety-nine "casualties" were treated.

Automobile manufacturers loaned cars to the Inaugural Committee, for general transportation as well as for the parade. Cadillac loaned 160 cars, Packard 40, Rolls Royce 3 and Pierce Arrow 1.

By Mr. Hoover's request, the Inaugural Parade was to be kept short-no longer than two hours. As a result, participation by civic groups, school bands, and other organizations was fairly limited. Iowa was represented in the parade by Governor John Hammill, the Coe College Band, and a delegation of citizens from Hoover's home town of West Branch.

Times have changed. Contemporary inaugurations may include ten or more formal balls, rock concerts and other performances, numerous other events, and cost tens of millions of dollars. Hoover's inauguration cost $246,024.44, and the Secretary of the Inaugural Committee offered the following advice to future Inaugural Committees:
"A suggestion, which I am sure would prove of great helpfulness to future Committees, would be the installation of two telephone trunk lines and the absolute necessity of a switch-board with an attendant... The Office Force of two secretaries seemed to have been sufficient to carry the load... My suggestion would also be that a messenger should be employed during the entire month of February as the service of one was found to be extremely useful during the last two weeks of the Inaugural period this year."


Washington's Birthday Bicentennial: Planting a Tree

The bicentennial of Washington's birth in February, 1932, was an occasion celebrated throughout the United States, and around the world. The official George Washington Bicentennial Commission was established by President Coolidge in December 1924, and over the succeeding seven years it organized numerous projects, programs and celebrations to commemorate the historic date, and encouraged communities and civic organizations throughout the United States to follow suit.

As President, Mr. Hoover served as the chairman of the Bicentennial Commission. (You can read President Hoover's formal address to a Joint Session of Congress, opening the official celebration.) He personally attended many of the Bicentennial Commission meetings, and he received countless letters from people throughout the country describing local plans, requesting personal messages or appearances, or offering memorials or tributes.

One such memorial was the establishment of a Washington Memorial Forest in Palestine, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund of America. Their letter to President Hoover is as follows:

Letter to President Hoover

Letter to President Hoover

Here is the file copy of President Hoover's response:

Letter from President Hoover to the Jewish National Fund of America

The following month, he received this colorful letter and certificate:

Letter from Jewish National Fund

Tree fund certificateTree Donation

It is unknown what happened to "Tree #1", planted in President Hoover's honor. Perhaps it is still growing somewhere in northern Israel.


White House Musicales: The Rest of the Story

Having previously noted some of the White House musicales presented during the Hoover Administration, one may ask who was in charge of determining the programs and securing the artists. These tasks were the responsibility, not of a White House staff member, but of Henry Junge at Steinway & Sons piano company:

Steinway letter Steinway reply
Steinway letter


Actually, Mrs. Hoover was not very enthusiastic about continuing the established tradition. She confided to friends that she thought it embarrassing that the artists were not paid, and that a private company was responsible for the arrangements and expenses. The White House entertainment budget, however, was very limited, so Mrs. Hoover was prepared to pay for the musicales out of her own pocket. (Actually, the Hoovers spent over $600, 000 of their own money on various expenses that were not covered by appropriations, and donated Mr. Hoover's entire salary to charity - but that's another story.) But the White House personnel begged her not to end the arrangement with Steinway because previous Presidents, and possibly future Presidents as well, could not afford to pay for the musicales out of pocket.

As time passed, however, Mrs. Hoover became dissatisfied with the programs and artists provided by Mr. Junge. Mrs. Hoover preferred American musicians, but Junge often scheduled foreign artists who were visiting the United States. Mrs. Hoover also complained that Junge sometimes had to switch programs at short notice when the originally scheduled artists backed out. Mrs. Hoover attempted, through some friends in New York, to quietly and diplomatically end the relationship with the Steinway & Sons, but the company, and Mr. Junge personally, were so proud of their role and so emotionally invested, that severing the arrangement would have been profoundly embarrassing. So Mrs. Hoover acquiesced, and Mr. Junge continued to arrange the musicales throughout the Hoover Administration.

White House Musicales: Part II

As noted previously, the Hoovers continued the tradition, which began during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, of sponsoring concerts or "musicales" at the White House, usually following important dinners or receptions. The Hoovers' tastes, and therefore the programming, tended toward classical music. Programs, guest lists, and other documentation for many of these musicales are preserved in the Lou Henry Hoover Papers at the Hoover Library. Unfortunately, as far as we know, none of the programs were recorded or photographed.

The majority of musicales held at the Hoover White House consisted of a vocalist paired with an instrumentalist. Here are a couple of sample programs, featuring names that are familiar even today. On January 23, 1930, a musicale following a judicial reception featured violinist Jascha Heifetz and contralto Margaret Matzenauer. Matzenauer was a Metropolitan Opera star at the twilight of her career; she would retire later that year. Heifetz was a young, internationally acclaimed violin virtuoso entering his prime.

Jascha Heifetz

Jascha Heifetz

Margaret Matzenauer

Margaret Matzenauer

White House Musical Program January 23, 1930 Inside of program, January 23, 1930


Following a diplomatic dinner on January 8, 1931, a musicale featured pianist Vladimir Horowitz and soprano Claire Dux. Dux was an opera star who sang frequently in Chicago and Europe; at the time of her White House performance she was married to Charles H. Swift of the Swift meatpacking family. Horowitz was a renowned Ukrainian pianist, who like Heifetz, was an ascending young star. Unlike Heifetz, however, who had left Russia before the Communist Revolution, Horowitz had escaped from the Soviet Union in 1925 on the pretense of studying abroad. Both became American citizens, Heifetz in 1925 and Horowitz in 1944.

Claire Dux

Claire Dux

Vladimir Horowitz

Vladimir Horowitz

White House Musical Program, January 8, 1931 Inside of musical program, January 8, 1931

White House Musicales

Harpist Mildred Dilling Program for White House Musical, April 29, 1931

Harpist Mildred Dilling, and the program for April 29, 1931.

The Hoovers continued the tradition, which began during the Theodore Roosevelt administration, of sponsoring concerts or "musicales" at the White House, usually following important dinners or receptions. The Hoovers' tastes, and therefore the programming, tended toward classical music. Some of the renowned artists who performed at the Hoover White House included opera stars Margaret Matzenauer and Lawrence Tibbet, violinists Jascha Heifetz and Efram Zimbalist, and cellists Alfred Wallenstein and Gregor Piatigorsky. As far as we know, none of the performances were recorded or photographed.

President and Mrs. Hoover started a new tradition that continues to this day - hosting a musicale for a visiting head of state. In April, 1931 King Prajadhipok of Siam and his wife, Queen Rambhai Barni, visited the United States. On April 29, 1931, harpist Mildred Dilling played for the musicale following the formal state dinner.

The King and Queen of Siam at the White House, April 29, 1931.

The King and Queen of Siam, with various officials and military aides, arrive at the White House, April 29, 1931.


In the President's Mailbox: Home-Made Sorghum and a Little Advice

Letter to Hoover

Letter to Hoover, Page 2

Response from Hoover's office.

Click on the letters above to see enlarged view.

The American people have often felt a close attachment to their President and his family, which is demonstrated by the numerous personal letters and gifts sent to the White House. During his Administration, Mr. Hoover received thousands of personal letters and gifts from ordinary Americans throughout the country. Some writers, of course, had serious questions for the President, and others were seeking a special favors or commercial gain, but many people just wanted to share something they thought would be of interest to the nation's Chief Executive. From time to time, Hoover Heads will feature an interesting or unusual letter or gift received by President Hoover.

Here is a letter President and Mrs. Hoover received shortly after the inauguration from A. E. Hinckley of Galesburg, Illinois, which was accompanied by a can of home-made sorghum. The handwritten note at the top of the letter, "This really belongs to the Pres's side of the fence!" suggests that the letter was originally steered to Mrs. Hoover's secretary. Note the farming advice that the writer offers on the second page. Following Mr. Hinkley's letter is the carbon copy of the response sent by Mr. Hoover's secretary.


New Year's Reception at the White House

New Year's Reception at the White House

President and Mrs. Hoover pose for a photograph in front of the White House prior to the 1930 New Year's reception.

Of all the duties required of a President, perhaps the one Herbert Hoover most loathed was the annual New Year's reception. The custom had begun with President John Adams, and was held almost every year except when the President was out of town. In the morning, the President would receive official visitors such as Ambassadors, members of Congress, and Cabinet officers. After lunch, the White House would be opened to the public and the President and First Lady would receive anyone who cared to drop in.

Supposedly, when John Adams started the tradition, 135 people showed up the first year. By the 1920s, the visitors typically numbered in the thousands, and it had become a strenuous burden on the President and First Lady. In fact, it was reported one year that President Coolidge's hand was injured by all the handshaking. But it was a popular tradition, painted in the press as an example of American democratic ideals, and no President could muster up the political courage to abolish it.

For New Year's Day 1930, the first New Year in the White House for the Hoovers, the New York World reported that 6,348 people showed up - twice the usual number. At 1 o'clock, when the doors were opened to the public, the line stretched for over half a mile. Hours later, when the last visitors departed, the Hoovers were exhausted.

The next year, the Hoovers planned ahead and rested as much as possible on New Year's Eve. Early on New Year's morning 1931, just before breakfast, the first two visitors arrived at the White House gates. When Mr. Hoover learned they were waiting in the cold, he said, "If there are two men so anxious to see me that they are here this early, bring them in." The two surprised men, Charles P. Ruby, a railroad worker, and Arthur J. Demars, an insurance agent, ate breakfast with the President and were later interviewed by a number of newspapers.

The New Year's reception for 1931 proved to be as difficult as 1930; the New York Times reported that 6,429 people filed through the White House that day. New Year's 1932 was easier; the day was cold and rainy, and only about 3,000 visitors braved the weather to stand in line. Much to the Hoovers' relief, they greeted the last visitors around 2 o'clock.

For New Year's 1933, the Hoovers escaped the annual tribulation - they went to Florida for a fishing vacation.


Supposed Plot Against Hoover Train is Foiled

This is the headline of a story in the November 9, 1932 issue of the New York Times article. Hoover was on a train traveling to Palo Alto to vote in the 1932 election when officials said they believed an attempt was made to wreck Hoover's special train. A watchman surprised and frightened away two men carrying sticks of dynamite near the railroad.

New York Times


Supreme Court Nominations

As President, Herbert Hoover had the opportunity to nominate three justices to the Supreme Court. In early 1930, Chief Justice William Howard Taft resigned due to ill health, and to replace him Hoover nominated Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes was clearly well qualified for the job, having had a distinguished legal career as well as serving as Governor of New York, United States Secretary of State, and from 1910 to 1916 as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, but progressives of both parties opposed Hughes's confirmation because of his perceived connections with corporate interests and Wall Street investors. After a bitter fight, Hughes was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 26.

Less than a month after Hughes was confirmed, Justice Edward Sanford passed away. To replace him, Hoover nominated John J. Parker of North Carolina, a widely respected judge on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. With many favorable endorsements, Parker's confirmation seemed assured. But objections were raised by the American Federation of Labor because of a decision Parker had written regarding "yellow-dog" contracts, and by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People due to remarks Parker had made about African-Americans when he ran for Governor of North Carolina in 1920. Many Senators grew concerned about losing African-American and Labor votes in the mid-term elections, and Parker was rejected 41 to 39.

Hoover then nominated Owen Roberts, one of the attorneys who had investigated the Harding Administration "Teapot Dome" scandal. The Senate was in no mood for another fight. There were no hearings on Roberts's nomination; in fact, there wasn't even a vote! In executive session, the Vice President asked "Is there objection [to the consideration of the nomination]? The Chair hears none. Without objection, the nomination is confirmed, and the President will be notified."

Upon the retirement of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in 1932, Hoover's last appointment was Benjamin Cardozo, a Democrat and a highly regarded judge on the New York Court of Appeals, who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. On the bench, Cardozo often sided with Justices Brandeis and Harlan Stone as the liberal faction of the Court. Even though Hughes had been characterized during his confirmation as a conservative, he also sided frequently with the more liberal justices. Roberts often provided the key swing vote between the liberal and conservative factions on the court.


Ashes Cartoon

Ashes cartoon The Senate's rejection of John J. Parker was a personal and political blow to President Hoover. As Hoover later remarked, "This failure of my party to support me greatly lowered the prestige of my administration."  (Cartoon by Rollin Kirby, New York World, May 9, 1930)

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