Herbert Hoover (1874-1964), the 31st president of the United States, was not a popular president at the time. Blamed for the Great Depression, it would be years after he left office before people decided that he wasn’t at fault.
The Early Years
Born Herbert Clark Hoover on August 10, 1874, in Iowa, he was the first president to be born west of the Mississippi River. His family were Quakers, followers of a form of religion that valued simplicity. Hoover’s father was a blacksmith, and his mother was a teacher. Sadly, young Hoover’s parents died, leaving him an orphan at nine years old to be raised by an uncle in Oregon.
He attended Quaker schools until college. He was part of the very first class to enter Stanford University in 1891. Unlike former presidents, who studied law, Hoover received a degree in geology and became a mining engineer. He traveled the world looking for valuable mineral deposits and ended up becoming a multimillionaire for his efforts.
Hoover’s humanitarian work began at the start of World War I. He helped 120,000 stranded American tourists return to the U.S. after hostilities broke out in Europe. He coordinated food and supplies to be delivered to Belgium when Germany occupied the area. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed him the head of the Food Administration. Here, he encouraged people to consume less meat and other commodities so that there would be enough for the troops. After the war, Hoover sent shipments of food to Europe and earned worldwide gratitude and acclaim for his efforts. Those who benefited from the free meals called them “Hoover lunches.”
Hoover was appointed the secretary of commerce by President Warren Harding and retained the position under President Calvin Coolidge. He helped organize and expand the radio broadcasting and civilian aviation industries and also laid the groundwork for the huge dam between Arizona and Nevada, known as the Hoover Dam.
In 1928, Hoover ran as the Republican Party’s nominee for the presidential election, carrying 40 states and winning by a record margin of 444-87 electoral votes. In his inaugural address, the newly elected president said, “I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope.”
Unfortunately, just seven months after taking office, on October 24, 1929, the stock market plunged, sending America into the Great Depression. Unemployment rates went from just 3% in 1929 to 23% in 1932. Millions of people lost their jobs and homes, had to wait in bread lines for food, and some were forced to live in very poor areas known as “Hoovervilles.”
Although Hoover took several steps to help the American people and the economy, he believed in less government involvement and that assistance should be handled voluntarily at local levels. He vetoed several bills that would have provided relief, saying, “Prosperity cannot be restored by raids upon the public Treasury.”
By the 1932 presidential election, Hoover was very unpopular and even reviled by many. Instead of the 40 states he carried four years earlier, he only managed to get six states for his re-election. After leaving the Oval Office, the former president wrote books and magazines on his conservative political views while warning that too much power in the government was dangerous. In the 1950s he returned to politics by serving on commissions for later presidents.
Hoover was 90 years old when he died and by that time people realized that he was not as bad as they’d thought. The depression lasted another eight years after he left the White House, despite efforts from President Franklin Roosevelt.