Born August 10, 1874 in West Branch, Iowa, Herbert "Bert" Hoover was the middle of three children whose parents were Quakers. His father, Jesse, was a blacksmith.
After both parents died in the early 1880s, the children were separated and sent to live with different relatives. Herbert was sent to live with his uncle, Dr. Henry Minthorn, in Oregon.
After quitting high school in order to work in his uncle's real estate office, Herbert Hoover began to think about a career in engineering. He began with the study of geology at Stanford University, with the idea of becoming a mining engineer. There he met Lou Henry, and they were married in 1899.
The great engineer
After graduation, Hoover worked for a San Francisco engineering firm, and later took a job with an English mining company to run their gold mines in Australia and China. At age 27, Hoover was made a partner in the company, and began to travel the world, visiting the company's mines and searching for new ones. Herbert Hoover traveled around the world five times in five years. The Hoovers had two sons during that time, Herbert Jr. and Allan.
In 1908, Herbert Hoover started his own engineering business. His company specialized in reorganizing failing companies, hunting for new mining prospects, and finding investors to pay for developing the best mines. Hoover's consulting firm employed 175,000 workers all over the world, with offices in England, France, Russia, San Francisco and New York City. He soon became known as the "Great Engineer."
The great humanitarian
Already a multi-millionaire in his early thirties, Herbert Hoover became interested in public service. In 1914, he put other men in charge of his mining business and gave all his time to Belgian relief during World War I. In May 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Hoover to come to Washington, D.C., to serve as his wartime food administrator, which, once he accepted the position, Hoover insisted on doing without any salary.
As food administrator, Herbert Hoover had absolute control over what American farmers produced, how much they were paid, what and how much produce went to the American army at home and abroad, as well as to the general public, and how much stores could charge customers.
With World War I in full swing, the U.S. would have to find enough food to feed itself and its European allies for a long time. Herbert Hoover urged American households to conserve food, and in so doing, more food was made available to send overseas. Even after the war was over in November 1918, Europe's need for food was as pressing as when the war was still being fought. The war had left European nations without enough food to last the winter. Hoover organized shipment of food for millions of starving people in central Europe, and even extended aid into Soviet Russia in 1921.
For his efforts, he became an important wartime adviser to President Woodrow Wilson, who made Hoover a part of the American delegation to the conference of the Treaty of Versailles.
Herbert Hoover served as secretary of commerce for seven years, under presidents Harding and Coolidge, and became the Republican presidential nominee in the Election of 1928. He was elected by an overwhelming majority. During his first few months as president, Hoover pushed Congress to set aside money for national park land, to reform prisons, and provide better education on American Indian reservations. He also urged Congress to pass the Agricultural Marketing Act, which helped farmers set up cooperatives, control surpluses, and keep the food supply steady.
After just eight months in office, on October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed, fueling a growing depression that became the most severe economic crisis the United States had ever known, and second only to the Civil War as the greatest domestic crisis in the nation's history.
Although Herbert Hoover has been blamed for the stock market crash, he, in fact, warned President Coolidge in 1925 about the dangers of excessive stock market speculation. He again expressed concern while running for president in 1928.
After the crash, Herbert Hoover ordered federal departments to speed up construction projects, cut $160 million in taxes, and doubled the amount spent on public works. By 1933, one-fourth of the nation's workers were unemployed. In addition to the high unemployment, the American economy experienced slow economic growth and financial instability. Hoover was criticized for his refusal to authorize large-scale relief programs that might have alleviated the nation's suffering and hunger, his unwillingness to use a significant amount of federal dollars to stimulate the nation's economy, and his failure to recognize the all-encompassing nature of the Great Depression.
A president rejected
Perhaps the most politically damaging event of Hoover's presidency was the Bonus March, staged by World War I veterans in 1932. Several years earlier, Congress had passed the Soldiers' Bonus Act, which granted veterans Adjusted Compensation Certificates, payable in 1945. In May 1932, the "Bonus Army" converged on the capitol to urge early redemption for the certificates.
More than 17,000 desperate veterans gathered in Washington to force passage of the bill. Herbert Hoover had already made generous provisions for veterans and felt that the bill was a huge expense that wouldn't help the country's most needy. In July, the Bonus Bill was defeated in the Senate, although the government offered to pay the fare home for each veteran.
Thousands accepted the offer, but thousands more remained encamped across the Potomac from central Washington in a ramshackle shantytown, dubbed "Hooverville." Although the Bonus Army had behaved remarkably peacefully, the police were called in to evict the veterans. A riot broke out and Hoover ordered that federal troops be dispatched to contain the veterans. The commanding general, Douglas MacArthur, did much more than "contain", however, and ordered the use of tear gas, tanks, and bayonets, and commanded soldiers to set fire to the veterans' shacks. Several veterans and even an infant were killed in the chaos. Herbert Hoover never publicly criticized the general for his excessive conduct, and thus the American people blamed the president as well as MacArthur.
Herbert Hoover was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Election of 1932. Only six of the 48 states voted for Hoover. Hoover and Roosevelt did not get along. Hoover strongly opposed Roosevelt's New Deal legislation, in which the federal government assumed responsibility for the welfare of the nation by maintaining a high level of economic activity - providing for the unemployed and elderly, prohibiting anti-social business practices, protecting natural resources, and developing the Tennessee Valley and other largely undeveloped regions. Roosevelt never consulted Hoover, nor did he involve him in government in any way during his presidential term.
For all of his humanitarian efforts, Hoover is still seen by many as the most unpopular president in American history. The public, and especially the Democratic party, blamed Hoover for the Great Depression. He was so unpopular in fact, that 1936 presidential nominee Alfred M. Landon did not even want Hoover to give speeches in his behalf. Few Republicans wanted Hoover involved in party politics because of his negative image in the popular mind.
A second chance at public service
After Roosevelt's death in 1945, President Harry Truman invited Hoover to the White House, where he was asked to organize European war relief after World War II. In 1946 Hoover traveled to 38 countries, documented food needs, located surpluses, and arranged food shipments to countries in need.
In 1947, President Truman appointed Hoover the chairman of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, whose job it was to cut government waste and improve efficiency. Also, in 1947, Congress passed a bill renaming the Colorado River Dam "Hoover Dam."
Hoover spent the last years of his life writing several books, including American Epic, about relief movements in Europe, The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, about former president Wilson's experience in working on the Treaty of Versailles, plus an unpublished manuscript about failures in American foreign policy, called Freedom Betrayed.
Beginning in the 1970s, Hoover's reputation began to improve. Most now argue that Hoover, in reality, could have done little to prevent or solve the Depression.
Following his wife's death in 1944, Hoover resided in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. He died there at the age of 90 on October 20, 1964. He was buried in his birthplace in West Branch, Iowa. More than 75,000 people attended the funeral service.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes by Herbert Hoover.
Regarding Great Depression
While the crash only took place six months ago, I am convinced that we have now passed the worst and with continuity of effort we shall rapidly recover.
Address to the United States Chamber of Commerce, May 1, 1930
Regarding Great Depression
If, by the grace of God, we have passed the worst of this storm, the future months will be easy. If we shall be called upon to endure more of this period, we must gird ourselves for even greater effort, for today we are writing the introduction to the future history of civilization in America. The question is whether that history shall be written in terms of individual responsibility, and the capacity of the Nation for voluntary cooperative action, or whether it shall be written in terms of futile attempt to cure poverty by the enactment of law, instead of the maintained and protected initiative of our people.
Speech at the Gridiron Club, 1931
Regarding National Debt
Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.
Speech in 1936. At that time, the federal debt was around $35 billion. It is now around $14 trillion.
Regarding Election of 1944
Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die. And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.
Address to the 1944 Republican National Convention
Regarding Election of 1928
Our country has deliberately undertaken a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose.
Speech regarding Prohibition
Regarding Election of 1928
Bureaucracy is ever desirous of spreading its influence and its power. You cannot extend the mastery of the government over the daily working life of a people without at the same time making it the master of the people's souls and thoughts.
Campaign Speech in New York City, October, 1928
Regarding Election of 1932
So far as the personal side is concerned, the victory was to him who lost and the defeat to him who won. I can say that never in the last fifteen years have I had the peace of mind that I have since the election. I have almost a feeling of elation.
Reflections on losing the 1932 election to Franklin D. Roosevelt
Regarding Election of 1936
Can democracy stand the strain of Mother Hubbard economics for long? Will there be anything left in the economic cupboard but a bone?
Speech at the 1936 Republican National Convention
Quotes regarding Herbert Hoover.
By Babe Ruth
What the hell has Hoover got to do with it? Besides, I had a better year than he did.
Regarding his demand for a higher salary than that of the president of the United States
By Will Rogers
The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.
St. Petersburg Times, 1932