Thirty-First President of the United States
Nickname: The Great Humanitarian
Terms in Office: 1929-1933
- Born August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa
- Parents: Jesse Clark and Hulda Randall Minthorn Hoover
- Died October 20, 1964, in New York City, New York; age 90
- Age upon Start of Term: 54, Age upon Conclusion of Term: 58
- Religious Affiliation: Society of Friends (Quaker)
- Political Party: Republican
- Height: 6 Feet
- Vice President: Charles Curtis
The Bottom Line
Herbert Hoover served one term, during which he struggled to combat the Great Depression that began the first year he was in office.
What Was He Thinking?
Herbert Hoover believed in limited government – a belief that did not serve him well during the Great Depression. Rather than sending government workers and departments to solve situations, Hoover preferred encouraging private, volunteer relief organizations.
Why Should I Care?
Herbert Hoover served as president at the start of one of America’s darkest and bleakest periods. The Great Depression caused millions of Americans to love their jobs and resulted in a substantial loss of the fortunes amassed during the Roaring Twenties. Hoover’s policies were too weak for the crisis, and as a result the economy only worsened.
Breakin’ It Down
Herbert was born to a devout Quaker family, where he learned the values of hard work, community, cooperation, spirituality, and nonviolence. His father died at age thirty-four when young “Herb” was only six years old. Three years later, his mother died, leaving Herbert and his two siblings orphaned and penniless. The Hoover children were sent to Oregon to live with their uncle, Henry Minthorn.
When Herbert reached college age, he enrolled at the newly established Stanford University, and became the youngest member of the first graduating class.
Hoover’s first postcollege job was pushing carts of ore at a gold mine. The work was treacherous, but before long he landed an engineering job in San Francisco. This turned into the chance of a lifetime for Hoover, for he soon transferred to London’s Bewick, Moreing, and Company, who hired him to inspect various mine sites across the globe. In 1899, Hoover and his wife moved to Beijing, China, where he continued to inspect coal mines. While there, Hoover amassed a large fortune and earned substantial gains for the Bewick, Moreing, and Company. By 1908, Herbert Hoover was worth four million dollars, and later he was worth much more.
Herbert Hoover married Lou Henry in 1899. They met at Stanford, where Lou became the first woman in the United States to earn a degree in geology. Together the couple had two children. Lou was a trailblazing and progressive woman. She believed women could have active careers while caring for their children – and she did just that. Lou served as president of the Girl Scouts of America and was a member of the League of Women Voters, the National Women’s Athletic Association, the American Association of University Women, and the National Geographic Society. She was also the only woman to serve as a board member for the National Amateur Athletic Federation. And she delivered her own radio addresses, encouraging people to share their resources when the Depression began.
Herbert Hoover lived the American dream. He began his life as a penniless orphan but became a self-made millionaire who used his money to help people all around the globe. On top of that, he became president of the United States.
Whenever Herbert Hoover and Lou Hoover wanted to avoid being overheard by the White House staff, they would speak in fluent Chinese.
Previous Political Career
1917: Appointed head of the newly formed U.S. Food Administration by President Woodrow Wilson.
1919: Director of the American Relief Administration, which helped fight famine in the European war zones.
1921-1928: Served as secretary of commerce under both presidents Harding and Coolidge. In this position, Hoover instituted one of the first manufacturing codes for businesses and regulated manufacturing standards for everyday items such as nuts and bolts, paper, tires, and milk bottles.
Election of 1928: It was the first time Hoover had ever run for office – talk about starting big. Campaigning was still very different then than it is now. Hoover only made seven speeches during his whole campaign. His promotion of big business, capitalism, and limited government was opposed by the working and farming classes, but Hoover still managed to pull off a large Electoral College vote.
Herbert Hoover worked hard his entire life – a trait that stemmed from his turbulent and tragic childhood. He expected others to do the same but also cared for those around him. Often shy in crowds, he never liked public speaking but was a natural leader nonetheless.
Like almost every president, Hoover wrote his fair share of books: The Challenge to Liberty in 1934, The Basis of Lasting Peace in 1945, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover in 1951, and The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson in 1958. His final book even became a bestseller!
While Herbert Hoover served as president, the U.S. suffered the worst economic collapse it has ever known. The Great Depression and the effects of the collapse were not Hoover’s fault, and had the man served during any other time, he might have been considered one of America’s greatest leaders. The catastrophic recession came mostly as a result of Americans being responsible with their money – whether borrowing money based on “future income” they would never have or investing large amounts of money on risky corporations.
Stock Market Crash
It all began on October 24, 1929, with the biggest stock market crash America has ever seen. Hoover attempted to soften the blow on the middle class by meeting with business moguls and begging them to keep workers’ wages the same even if that meant a decline in their profits. Although Hoover opposed sending government money into the situation, he urged local and state governments to begin public works projects to employ some of the growing number of unemployed men across the United States. Nevertheless, as February approached and the depression slowly worsened, Hoover called for Congress to pass a $150 million bill to supply money for public works projects and tax cuts.
Hoover worked endlessly to fix the situation. Rising at dawn each day, he slowly made his way through an endless string of meetings with leaders from across America. Hoover also transformed the White House from a place of fanfare and custom to a house that provided only the most basic utilitarian needs. He canceled all ceremonies, celebrations, and celebratory presidential appearances. Despite Hoover’s actions, Americans began to blame him for the decline in the economy.
By the summer of 1931, eight million Americans were unemployed. The homeless began camping in city parks, and several riots flared around the country as a result of the scant food supplies. Within a year, unemployment increased by 50 percent, and small cardboard structures housing penniless American families popped up all over the country.
I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope. – Herbert Hoover
Sadly, Hoover would be regretting those words from his inauguration come October and the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which cost $26 billion in private money.
After the conclusion of World War I, France and Great Britain were deeply indebted to America. During Hoover’s presidency the two countries struggled to make their payments, and the payments eventually came at such sporadic rates that Hoover suspended them. The only other notable foreign policy event during this time period was the signing of the Stimson Doctrine, which proclaimed that any nation whose government was overthrown by a rebellion would still be able to develop diplomatic relations with the U.S.
The Hoovers paid their secretaries and all their staff members out of their own pocket during their time in the White House.
Hoover did attempt reelection, but it became apparent early on that a second term was unachievable. At Hoover’s campaign stops, he often found himself at the mercy of angry and disgruntled crowds throwing rotten eggs and tomatoes. Twice Hoover received just over 40 percent of the popular vote, a large margin for a man who was president during one of the darkest times in U.S. history.
Hoover responded to every letter he received (approximately twenty thousand a month) because he believed anyone determined enough to write a letter deserved a response.
Thoughts on the Constitution
Our Constitution is not alone the working plan of a great Federation of States under representative government. There is embedded in it also the vital principles of the American system of liberty. That system is based upon certain inalienable freedoms and protections which not even the government may infringe and which we call the Bill of Rights. It does not require a lawyer to interpret these provisions.
The Hoover Dam on the Colorado River was named after Herbert Hoover!
Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929: This act established crop prices for farmers across America by allowing the government to buy surpluses from farmers. The act also provided loans to farmers who decided to pool their crops and resources in agricultural cooperatives.
Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930: This act greatly increased tariff rates on over twenty thousand imported goods.
Reconstruction Finance Corporation Act of 1932: This act created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which gave two million dollars in aid to state governments to help restart businesses and banks and refund mortgages and loans
Norris LaGuardia Anti-Injunction Act of 1932: This act stopped federal bans against strikes. It also prohibited judges from issuing court orders to limit peaceful striking.
Revenue Act of 1932: This act raised taxes on corporations and large estates.
Federal Home Loan Bank Act of 1932: This act lowered the cost of home ownership and formed the Federal Home Loan Bank, which helped finance home mortgages.
Buy American Act of 1933: This act required the federal government to buy only American-made products (if they were available) to help failing American businesses.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” became the official national anthem in 1931.
Hoover did not retreat into hiding after his not-so successful term in office. Rather, he remained as active as ever in the philanthropic field – worldwide and nationwide. At the outbreak of World War II, he headed the Polish Relief Commission. Later, President Truman commissioned Hoover to head the Food Supply for World Famine as well as the Commission on Organizations of the Executive Branch of the Government (more commonly known as the Hoover Commission). Hoover also established the Hoover Library on War Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University, and for eight years served as the chairman of the Boy’s Clubs of America. Hoover died at the age of ninety from internal intestinal bleeding.
Last Words: “Levi Strauss was one of my best friends.” – Herbert Hoover
The Presidential Times
Black Tuesday: The Stock Market Collapses!
October 24, 1929 – Wall Street opened today to business as usual, but everything went downhill very quickly. Values of stocks in the New York Stock Exchange began to steadily and rapidly fall. A panic ensued as stock market brokers frantically traded their customers stocks to prevent a massive loss. This made matters worse. This stock market collapse is the worst in American history. Banks across the country are already warning of foreclosures, and individuals are unable to obtain their cash, which has vanished over the course of twelve hours. Economists are warning people about a huge spike in unemployment.
The Great Depression
February 27, 1930 – In just over four months since the stock market crash, five million Americans have lost their jobs and that number is rising. Banks are foreclosing on mortgages, forcing thousands of Americans out of their homes. Farmers are going bankrupt, starting a spike in food prices.
Banks are failing in every state. President Hoover attempted to curb the unemployment spike, but businesses are already laying off people to keep paychecks relatively stable. Additionally, people are no longer spending money on unnecessary goods and are cutting back on consumption, causing the economy to decline further. This is also making a quick recovery impossible. Many economists are predicting that twelve million Americans, one in four, will be out of work by the time Hoover leaves office.
The Bonus Army March
July 28, 1932, The Bonus Army’s month-long camp-out in front of the White House came to a violent end today. After consistently refusing to speak to the group, President Hoover issued an order for the U.S. Army and the capital police to gently disperse the group.
However, the cardboard huts that the fifteen to twenty thousand veterans had lived in were burned and chaos ensued. A civilian mob charged the group, and one individual was accidentally killed. An infant was also killed in the disarray, and many were harmed by the gas. After the conclusion of World War I, the veterans were promised a bonus, due in 1945. This latest trouble began with the veterans’ plea for their war bonuses to be released early so they could provide for their starving families. Congress did pass a bill allowing 50 percent of the whole amount due to be issued early. However, Hoover vetoed the bill last year. The Hoover administration is refusing to talk about the unintended violence. Presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt commented, stating, “Well…this elects me.”
State of the Union
(1) States: 48
(2) U.S. Population: (1929) 123,059,488
(3) U.S. Debt (1929) $16,558,199,158
(4) Value of the Dollar: $1 in 1929 would be worth $13.70. $1 in 1933 would be worth $17.86.
- 1929 – The U.S. Stock Market collapses on Black Tuesday
- 1929 – Edwin Hubble introduces the idea of an expanding universe
- 1930 – Construction begins on the Hoover Dam
- 1930 – Great Britain, the United States, Japan, Italy, and France sign a navel disarmament treaty
- 1931 – Hoover suspends France’s and Germany’s war debts to the U.S.
- 1931 – Al Capone is sentenced to eleven years in prison for tax evasion
- 1932 – The twentieth amendment to the Constitution is passed
- 1932 – Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic
- 1933 – The twenty-first amendment to the Constitution is passed February 20, 1933
- 1933 – Germany and Japan withdraw from the Leagues of Nations
- 1933 – Adolf Hitler is appointed the chancellor of Germany
[T]he American System…is founded upon the conception that only through ordered liberty, freedom, and equal opportunity to the individual will his initiative and enterprise spur on the march of progress. – Herbert Hoover
Hoover said this in his “Rugged Individualism” campaign speech of 1928.
What Has He Done for Me Lately?
Hoover’s achievements before and after his presidency left a much greater legacy than his presidency itself. A penniless orphan turned millionaire turned philanthropist, Hoover used his fortune and his leadership abilities to save millions of lives across the globe. From his actions to help stranded American travelers at the beginning of World War I, when he funded their safe travel back to America, to his efforts to supply food to starving countries across Europe during both world wars, Hoover spent nearly all of his time serving others. However, he failed to save America from the Great Depression during his presidency because of his belief the government should not control U.S. economic recovery efforts.
Juliette Turner is the National Youth Director of Constituting America, and the author of three books: Our Constitution Rocks, Our Presidents Rock and the novel, based on life at her ranch with her mom, actress Janine Turner, That’s Not Hay In My Hair (all published by HarpersCollins/Zondervan).
Our Presidents Rock, HarpersCollins/Zondervan, 2014. Reprinted with permission.