The Life of Herbert Hoover

The 31st President of the United States

The son of a Quaker blacksmith, Herbert Hoover brought a reputation of public service to the White House. 

Born in Iowa, in 1874, Herbert Hoover grew up in Oregon, where he enrolled in Stanford University, graduating in 1891 as a mining engineer.

Herbert Hoover’s Early Career

Herbert Hoover in China

Around the same time, Hoover married Lou Henry, his Stanford sweetheart. Together they went to China, where Hoover became one of the country’s top mining engineers. In June, 1900, Hoover and his wife were caught in Tientsin, China, when the Boxer Rebellion broke out. The city suffered a month of heavy shelling. While Lou worked as a nurse in one of the city’s hospitals, Hoover oversaw the construction of barricades. At one point he even risked his life to rescue a group of Chinese children.

Herbert Hoover in World War I

While in London and one week before his 40th birthday, in 1914, Germany declared war on France, which signalled the beginning of World War I. Over 120,000 Americans were stranded in Britain as a result. The American Consul General asked for Hoover’s assistance in returning them to the United States. Following this, Hoover took on the even more difficult task of feeding Belgium, which had been invaded by the German Army.

After the entrance of the United States into World War I, in 1917, President Wilson appointed Hoover chairman of the Food Administration. Hoover was able to cut consumption of food at home, and supply American forces fighting in France, without resorting to rationing.

Following the signing of the Armistice in 1918, Hoover became a member of the Supreme Economic Council, in addition to joining the American Relief Administration, which organized food shipments for starving civilians all over Europe. Hoover also extended food aid to a famine-stricken Soviet Union. When some of his critics accused Hoover of spreading Communism, he replied, “twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!”

President Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce

During the 1920s, Hoover served as the Secretary of Commerce for President Harding and President Coolidge. In 1928, following Coolidge’s decision not to seek a second term, Hoover became the Republican Presidential candidate. During his campaign, he often said, “we in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before.” Hoover’s election as the 31st President of the United States seemed to assure the continued prosperity that had begun under his predecessors. However, in October, 1929, just a few months into his administration, the stock market collapsed and the United States was plunged into the Great Depression.

Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression

In the wake of the market collapse, Hoover announced that he would continue to balance the Federal budget. Hoover also cut taxes and increased spending on public works projects.

By 1931, events in Europe had exacerbated the escalating crisis, despite the fact that Hoover had presented a program to Congress that called for the creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and aid to farmers and business owners. Along with this, Hoover pushed for loans to the states for feeding the unemployed and expanding public works projects.

At the same time, Hoover also believed that, while people should not suffer unnecessarily, caring for the homeless and the unemployed was the responsibility of the individual.

Meanwhile, Hoover’s political enemies attempted to sabotage his efforts for their own political gain. As a result, Hoover was depicted in the media as a cruel and uncaring president. As a consequence of this he was decisively beaten by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 Presidential election. Through out the 1930s, Hoover remained a vocal critic of President Roosevelt and the New Deal, claiming that it would turn the United States into a nanny state.

The Death of Herbert Hoover

In 1945, following the end of World War II, President Truman appointed Hoover chairman of a commission with the task of reorganizing the executive branch of the American government. In 1953, Hoover was asked to join a similar committee by President Eisenhower. Hoover was also a prolific author, and wrote many books and articles over the course of his life. Politically active for much of his adult life, Herbert Hoover died at the age of 90, on October 20, 1964.


Herbert Hoover, The White House. US Government. Dec.8/09

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