Hoover, Herbert


Herbert Clark Hoover was the 31st president of the United States.

During his first year in office the Wall Street crash of 1929 occurred. He

was blamed for the resulting collapse of the economy, and his unpopular

policies brought an end to a brilliant career in public office. After the

inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, however, Hoover remained

a leading critic of the New Deal and a spokesman for the Republican party.

Early Life

Born on Aug. 10, 1874, the son of a blacksmith in the Iowa village of

West Branch, Hoover was orphaned at the age of eight and sent to live with

an uncle in Oregon. The uncle became wealthy, enabling Hoover to study

mining engineering at Stanford University; he graduated in 1895. The

influences of his engineering training and his Quaker upbringing were to

shape his subsequent careers.

Hoover began working in California mines as an ordinary laborer, but he

soon obtained a position in Australia directing a new gold-mining venture.

During the next two decades he traveled through much of Asia, Africa, and

Europe as a mining entrepreneur, earning a considerable fortune. At the

outbreak of World War I in August 1914 he was in London.

Hoover, who as a Quaker passionately believed in peace, was appalled by

the human costs of the war, and he determined to devote his life to public

service. He volunteered to direct the exodus of American tourists from

war-torn Europe and then to head (1915-19) the Commission for Relief in

Belgium. This position brought him public attention as the "great

humanitarian," a well-earned reputation that he lost only after the 1929

Wall Street debacle. The commission fed 10,000,000 people during the war

and left funds for Belgian postwar reconstruction.

When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Hoover was called

to Washington to serve as food administrator. This was a special wartime

office, created to encourage American agricultural production and food

conservation and to coordinate a rational distribution of food. When the

war ended in November 1918, President Woodrow Wilson sent Hoover back to

Europe to direct the American Relief Administration, an agency intended to

relieve the suffering in Europe caused by the war\'s destruction.

Hoover\'s public reputation was enormous as a result of his activities

in these offices, and some persons looked upon him as a presidential

candidate in 1920. He had never participated in partisan politics, but he

did declare himself a Republican while refusing to seek the presidency that

year. In 1921, Warren G. Harding appointed Hoover secretary of commerce, a

post he held until he began his own presidential campaign in 1928.

Secretary of Commerce

As secretary of commerce, Hoover made his most important contributions

to public policy. He was so able and active in the administrations of

Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge that observers often referred to him

as "secretary for domestic affairs." Hoover directly confronted a dilemma

central to American values: the conflict between the tradition of

individualism and the impersonalism of large corporations and big cities.

Hoover deeply believed in the traditional worth of the individual, the

value of personal initiative, the rights of self-expression, and the legacy

of freedom of opportunity. These beliefs were deeply rooted in American

society and in Hoover\'s personal Quaker faith.

But Hoover, as an engineer, was also profoundly impressed by the

virtues of science. Rational principles could point the way to

disinterested fairness in public policy, bring about greater efficiency in

the economy and in society, and, if applied dispassionately, cause an end

to the bitter conflicts in an America populated by persons of different

creeds, races, and social classes. In his belief that greater rationality

in public life could be combined with respect for the tradition of

individual rights, Hoover conformed to the mainstream of progressive social

thought in the early 20th century.

As secretary of commerce Hoover was concerned with applying rational

principles in order to end conflict between labor and business. But he was

mostly preoccupied with trying to bring the benefits of cooperative action

to business owners and farmers without destroying individual initiative. To

this end his department encouraged firms to join together in trade

associations and thereby develop and share vital information about costs of

production and distribution and about available markets.


Hoover\'s views and policies were popular in the 1920s. In 1928, after

Coolidge announced that he would not seek reelection, Hoover launched a

successful presidential campaign, easily defeating the Democratic

contender, Al Smith. Hoover expressed the belief that ways had been found

to eliminate the scourges of poverty and that America was entering a future