Before serving as the 31st president of the united states from 1929 to 1933, herbert hoover had achieved international success as a mining engineer and worldwide gratitude as “the great humanitarian” who fed war-torn europe during and after the first world war.
The son of a Quaker blacksmith, Herbert Clark Hoover brought to the presidency an unparalleled reputation for public service as an engineer, administrator, and humanitarian.
Born in an Iowa town in 1874, he grew up in Oregon. He enrolled at Stanford University when it opened in 1891 and graduated as a mining engineer.
he married his girlfriend from stanford, lou henry, and they went to china, where he worked for a private corporation as china’s leading engineer. In June 1900 the Boxer Rebellion trapped the Hoovers in Tientsin. for nearly a month, the settlement was under heavy fire. While his wife worked in the hospitals, Hoover directed the construction of barricades and once risked his life rescuing Chinese children.
A week before Hoover celebrated his 40th birthday in London, Germany declared war on France, and the American Consul General asked Hoover to help bring home stranded tourists. In six weeks his committee helped 120,000 Americans return to the United States. The next vacuum cleaner was dedicated to a much more difficult task: feeding Belgium, which had been invaded by the German army.
after the united states entered the war, president wilson appointed hoover chief of the food administration. he managed to reduce the consumption of necessary food abroad and avoided rationing at home, but kept the allies fed.
After the armistice, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the US Relief Administration, organized food shipments for millions of starving people in Central Europe. In 1921 he extended his aid to famine-stricken Soviet Russia. When asked by a critic if he was not thereby helping Bolshevism, Hoover replied: “Twenty million people are starving. whatever their politics, they will be fed!”
After ably serving as secretary of commerce under presidents harding and coolidge, hoover became the republican presidential candidate in 1928. he then said, “we in america today are closer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land.” his choice seemed to ensure prosperity. however, within months, the stock market crashed and the nation spiraled downward into depression.
After the accident, Hoover announced that while he would keep the federal budget balanced, he would cut taxes and increase spending on public works.
in 1931, fallout from europe deepened the crisis, even though the president presented a program to congress calling for the creation of the reconstruction finance corporation to help businesses, extra help for farmers facing foreclosure , banking reform, a loan to the states to feed the unemployed, expansion of public works and drastic government economy.
at the same time, he reiterated his view that while people should not go hungry or cold, caring for them should be primarily a local and voluntary responsibility.
His opponents in Congress, who he felt were sabotaging his program for their own political gain, unfairly portrayed him as a callous and cruel president. Hoover became the scapegoat for the Depression and was soundly defeated in 1932. In the 1930s he became a powerful critic of the New Deal, warning against trends toward statism.
In 1947, President Truman appointed Hoover to a commission, which elected him chairman, to reorganize the executive departments. He was appointed chairman of a similar commission by President Eisenhower in 1953. Many economies resulted from the recommendations of both commissions. Over the years, Hoover wrote many articles and books, one of which he was writing when he died at age 90 in New York City on October 20, 1964.
the presidential biographies on whitehouse.gov are from “the presidents of the united states of america”, by frank freidel and hugh sidey. copyright 2006 by the white house historical association.
To learn more about President Hoover, visit the Herbert Hoover Library and Museum
Learn more about Herbert Hoover’s wife, Lou Henry Hoover.