Herbert Hoover


Herbert Clark Hoover

Of modest origin and orphaned at a very young age, Herbert Hoover was the embodiment of the American dream. After graduating in geology in 1895, he travelled the world and made his fortune in the mining industry. During the First World War, he put his career on hold and devoted himself to humanitarian aid. His activity led him to take the lead in food aid in the United States when the country became involved in the conflict. Committed to the Republican Party, he supported Warren G. Harding in the 1920 presidential election. Gradually, he rose through the ranks of the party and served as Secretary of Commerce for seven years. Very popular and architect of the country’s economic boom during the decade, he was logically elected president in the 1928 presidential election.

His term in office was marked by the Great Depression and the deterioration of the United States’ international relations with Europe. Unable to absorb the effects of the crisis, he was defeated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential election. He spent the next thirty-two years restoring his image, which had been degraded by his management of the crisis. An internationalist by choice, he was an isolationist from 1930 to 1941. After Roosevelt’s death, he managed to return to the forefront, heading two commissions to improve the efficiency of the federal government. Hoover is considered an average president, generally being ranked in the third tier in rankings by historians and the press.


Herbert Hoover was born on August 10, 1874 in West Branch, a small town straddling Cedar and Johnson counties in Iowa. He was the son of Jesse Hoover, a farrier, and Hulda Randall Minthorn. He has German, English and Swiss ancestry through his father and English and Irish through his mother. His mother grew up in Norwich, Ontario, Canada before moving to Iowa in 1859. Like most West Branch residents, his parents were Quakers.

At the age of two, he contracted what is known as croup, a respiratory ailment, from which he escaped only thanks to the intervention of his doctor and businessman uncle, John Minthorn. His father died in 1880 at the age of 34, when he was only six years old. His mother died four years later, leaving him an orphan with his older brother Theodore and his younger sister May. In 1885, he left Iowa with his brother and sister and moved to Newberg, Oregon, where his uncle John lived. As in West Branch, a large Quaker community lived in Newberg. He left school early and taught himself mathematics.

Training and professional career

In 1891, after several failures, he managed to enter Stanford University, mainly thanks to his success in the mathematics exam. He enrolled first in mechanical engineering and then in geology and graduated in 1895. He met his future wife, Lou Henry, in 1893. It was she who convinced him to move to Australia to find work as a mining engineer and geologist. His self-taught nature and his obsession with success led him to oppose the introduction of minimum wage and accident insurance in his gold mining company. He proposed to Lou in 1898 by sending her a telegram after learning that she had graduated in geology. They were married on February 10, 1899. That same year, his company Bewick, Moreing & Co. offered him a new position in China, following a dispute with his boss, Ernest Williams. He had to manage many gold mines in the Tianjin area and learned Mandarin, as did his wife Lou Henry. He deplored the inefficiency of the Chinese workers and considered them an inferior race. Nevertheless, he tried to introduce new working methods and to reward the most deserving workers. The Boxer Rebellion and the Battle of Tien-Tsin cut short the Hoovers’ stay in China, and they returned to Australia. Herbert even helped the American troops present in China to quell the rebellion.

In 1905, he founded his own company, the Zinc Corporation Limited, near Broken Hill in New South Wales and developed new mining methods. At the same time, he began to distance himself from Bewick, Moreing & Co. after the British government launched investigations into the company’s financial practices and actions. He recovered his shares in 1908.

In his rare spare time, Hoover wrote technical essays on mining management and other things. His essay Principles of Mining, published in 1909, was long a classic. In it, he advocated the eight-hour workday and the possibility of workers forming a union. In 1912, he and his wife Lou Henry translated the De re metallica by the German scholar Georgius Agricola. The translation is still a reference today. He also joined the Board of Trustees of Stanford University, and succeeded in getting the former chair of archaeology at the university, John Casper Branner, elected.

Investment in humanitarian work in Europe (1914-1920)

In 1914, the Hoovers were in London. They live quite well there, with Herbert’s personal fortune estimated at $4 million (equivalent to $102.1 million in 2019). Continental Europe is threatened with a new armed conflict, just forty years after the Franco-Prussian War. The Tangier and Agadir crises had rekindled tensions between the Triplice and the Triple Entente, as had the Balkan Wars. 100,000 Americans were living in Europe at the time. The Sarajevo bombing on July 28 was the detonator that ended the fragile peace that existed. The First World War had just begun, and already President Woodrow Wilson was concerned about the situation of expatriate Americans. Nevertheless, he signed a declaration of neutrality on August 4 and two weeks later invited his fellow citizens to remain neutral “in deed and in thought. With other London-based Americans, Hoover organized the repatriation of 20,000 of his compatriots to the United States. In addition, he founded the Commission for Relief in Belgium to provide food to German-occupied Belgium. Soon, the country experienced a chaotic food situation. Between the looting by the German imperial army, the blockade decided by the Triple Entente, the dependence on imported wheat and the bad harvests (linked to the entry into the war), Belgium experienced a situation of shortage from September 1914, for which the occupying forces were not prepared. Local charitable organizations soon found themselves without the resources to provide for the needs of the population. Baron Colmar von der Goltz, head of the occupation forces in Belgium, agreed that a neutral commission should take over the logistics of supplying the country with food. An American named Millard K. Shaler, living in Brussels, was sent to London to buy foodstuffs for a few thousand dollars. Once there, he met Hoover, who had made a name for himself by organizing the repatriation of his compatriots stranded in Europe. Britain’s negative attitude strengthened Shaler’s relationship with Hoover, who advised Shaler to go through the American embassy. American ambassador Walter Hines Page played a decisive role in the supply of Belgium. The Commission for Relief in Belgium was founded on October 22, 1914. Its mission was to facilitate the transport of food to the occupied territories of Belgium and Northern France. In 1915, following a request from the government of René Viviani, the Commission began to transport food to Northern France. It was active until 1919 and delivered 5.1 million tons of food for 9 million people (including 2 million French). The total amount of food delivered is estimated at 812 million dollars. He declared much later, about his humanitarian commitment:

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but on August 3, 1914 I ended my engineering career and started down the slippery slope of public life.”

In addition to his humanitarian aid activities during World War I, Hoover was charged by President Wilson with the responsibility of securing food supplies for the United States after the country entered the war. Hoover organized rationing by imposing a no-meat day (Tuesday), a no-wheat day (Wednesday) and a no-pork day, while sugar consumption was reduced to three pounds per person per month. About these restrictions, he declared:

“In this emergency, only the simplest way of life is patriotic.”

Again after the end of World War I, Hoover returned to humanitarian aid, helping all countries affected by the conflict, victorious and defeated, including Lenin’s Russia. Impressed by his organizational skills, the Democratic Party tried to convince him to join the party. Even his future successor in the White House Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw him as a potential candidate for the 1920 presidential election. This did not happen, and Hoover joined the Republican Party.

Secretary of Commerce (1921-1928)

Rewarded by his support for Warren G. Harding in the 1920 presidential election, he was appointed Secretary of Commerce. He succeeded in making this junior cabinet position one of the key cogs in U.S. economic policy. After Harding’s death, he became even more important, so much so that he overshadowed Calvin Coolidge, who tended to delegate a lot. Given the economic boom in the United States during the Roaring Twenties, Hoover was universally praised in his role as Secretary of Commerce. He was one of the few people not to be troubled by investigations into suspected corruption involving many members of the Harding administration as well as aides to the late president.

Presidential campaign of 1928

In August 1927, President Coolidge surprised most of his fellow citizens by announcing his decision to forego running for another term. Hoover was among the favorites to win the Republican Party’s nomination for the 1928 presidential election, so well was he recognized by his fellow citizens and the American press. However, Coolidge disliked him, stating:

“For six years, this man gave me advice that I had hardly asked for and that was all irrelevant.

The incumbent president, however, had to put aside his misjudgment to avoid a further split in the Republican Party. Hoover was chosen on the first ballot of the 1928 Republican National Convention in Kansas City as the presidential candidate. While the delegates considered returning Charles Dawes as their vice presidential candidate, Coolidge vigorously opposed it. Federal Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas was a compromise candidate. He formally accepted his party’s nomination eight weeks later at Stanford Stadium at his home in California. During his acceptance speech, he declared:

“Unemployment, with its corollary distress, is largely disappearing We are closer today, in America, to the final triumph over poverty than any other country has ever been.”

In a sign of the Republican Party’s confidence, a slogan is developing during the campaign:

On November 6, he won the popular vote against Al Smith, the governor of New York State, with 58.2% of the vote and 444 electors.

President of the United States (1929-1933)

Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as the 31st President of the United States on March 4, 1929, after being sworn in by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and former President William Howard Taft. Many members of his cabinet had been in the cabinets of Harding and Coolidge. The new president brimmed with optimism and plans, declaring:

“I have no fear about the future of our country. It shines with hope.”

However, an event with unexpected consequences would turn everything upside down.

The U.S. economy was in a fragile state at the time of Hoover’s inauguration, although the gross national product had increased by 50 percent between 1922 and 1929. Already between 1920 and 1921, the country had faced a depression. The creation of consumer credit led to a frenzy of purchases, including cars, furniture, phonograms, washing machines and radios. A large part of these purchases were made on credit, as were purchases of stock market securities, nearly 80% of which were made on credit or on deposit of other securities as collateral. Between August 1918 and August 1929, the American economy experienced 52 months of recession out of a total of 132 months, with speculation partially masking this fragility. Since the summer of 1928, speculation was in full swing on Wall Street. Stock prices rose exponentially between March 3, 1928 and September 3, 1929. A month later, the New York Stock Exchange experienced a major stock market crash. On October 22, a huge number of sales were recorded and prices fell by 10%. Two days later, 19 million shares were put up for sale, with only a little over 12 million shares purchased as prices began to plummet. On the 29th, 30 million shares went on sale in a single day, with just over 50% sold. These events marked the beginning of the Great Depression, which did not end until 1941 with the entry of the United States into World War II.

Contrary to popular belief, Hoover quickly realized the seriousness of the events. However, his hierarchical vision and his deep belief in the strength of the American economy prevented him from resolving the crisis. The president tried to remain optimistic in his statements, even though some of them were used against him in the 1932 presidential election. At the same time, he limited access to credit for households while trying to maintain wages at their current levels and preserve jobs, notably by summoning the country’s main industrialists to the White House on November 21, 1929. However, by the end of 1929, the fragility of the American economy was revealed: 659 banks went bankrupt and the overall value of stocks fell by half between September and November 13. Despite his request to industrialists, they refused to take the risk of investing. Investments fell by 35% in 1930 and again in 1931, and fell even more sharply in 1932. Worse still, the Great Depression was no longer limited to the United States, but was exported to Europe. American banks, which had lent a great deal during the 1920s to the Weimar Republic in particular, continued to lose money – which the states could not repay (only Finland continued to repay). Although nearly 22,700 banks were listed in 1930, many of them failed until 1933. But Hoover continued to be optimistic. In May 1930, he declared:

“We have now passed the most serious part and we are going to get out of this quickly.”

He was convinced that the worst was over, and the country even experienced a slight recovery in early 1931. The president had a hand in this, with his $915 million plan for huge public works schemes. However, Hoover became more withdrawn and less available to the media than in the early months of his presidency. Just when the president thought the worst was over, the crisis intensified in the United States and reached Europe. The bankruptcy of the Kreditanstalt Bank and the abandonment of the gold standard by the United Kingdom in 1931 thwarted one of Hoover’s key decisions, the enactment of the Hawley-Smoot Act on June 17, 1930, which had significantly increased tariffs to protect the U.S. domestic market. The signing of this law had the added consequence of alienating the support of the progressive wing of the Republican Party. But the passage of the new tariff deepened the crisis, as Europe in turn implemented protectionist policies that diminished American exports. Hoover continued to believe that “prosperity was just around the corner,” as he had declared in March 1930, and refused to increase the money supply. But U.S. Steel, one of the country’s largest companies, gave the president the coup de grace when it announced a 10 percent wage cut on October 1, 1931. The unemployment rate continued to rise. The number of unemployed rose from 6 million in 1930 to 13 million two years later. Whether in Chicago, New York or Philadelphia, the unemployment rate exceeded 40% of the working population. He hardly helped the farmers, who had always benefited from attractive prices, and for whom he had enacted another law in June 1929, the Agricultural Marketing Act. At the most, Congress granted a plan of 45 million dollars for farmers to feed their livestock.

It was not until the end of 1931 that the president decided to change his strategy. In December, he advocated the creation of a Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was signed into law on February 2, 1932. Its role was to bail out the banks so that they could support industry and farmers. But the maintenance of the gold standard and the lack of investor confidence did not allow this change in strategy to produce the desired effects. By the time he left the White House, the number of unemployed was close to 16 million.

In the mid-term elections of November 1930, the Democratic Party managed to regain control of the House of Representatives.

In June 1932, thousands of World War I veterans went to Washington. They demanded the bonus that Congress had promised them at the time. They were not supposed to receive it until 1945. Some of them had brought their wives and children, setting up camps outside Congress to protest after the Senate refused to vote to advance the bonus. On July 28, without notifying the president, General Douglas McArthur, aided by his aide General Dwight D. Eisenhower, dispersed the crowd with local police and the National Guard. Hoover, rather than firing McArthur, endorsed the decision, which would prove detrimental to his campaign for the 1932 presidential election.

Because of his experience during World War I, Hoover was much more internationalist than his Republican predecessors. He tried to maintain cordial relations with Latin American countries. However, he twice threatened the Dominican Republic with armed intervention and sent troops to El Salvador to support the government in place, which was in the grip of a revolt led by the extreme left. He ended the Banana Wars, withdrawing troops from Nicaragua and Haiti. Despite his good will, Hoover could only observe the decline of the international order that had been established in 1919, particularly in Europe.

His priority was disarmament, especially naval disarmament, so that the United States could devote more resources to domestic affairs. With Secretary of State Henry Stimson, Hoover wanted to strengthen the Washington Naval Treaty, which already dated from 1922. Through his efforts and those of several countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom and France, the major naval powers signed the London Naval Treaty in April 1930. For the first time, naval powers committed themselves to a ceiling on the tonnage of their ships, including auxiliary ships, as previous treaties had been limited to capital ships.

The Great Depression led to a deterioration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Europe. The fact that American banks stopped lending, especially to the Weimar Republic, led to an extension of the crisis to Europe. Between 1929 and 1932, foreign trade between the United States and Europe was divided by 3. In June 1931, Hoover proposed a one-year moratorium on World War I reparations, but he refused to cancel them, even though the Weimar Republic and Austria were suffering the full effects of the crisis. The Lausanne Conference in 1932 confirmed the decision, but in response France stopped repaying its debt, unhappy that the Weimar Republic had won its case. In addition, the World Conference on Disarmament held in Geneva did not produce any results. Japan had just invaded Manchuria a few months earlier, and Hoover could only obtain from Congress moral condemnation and non-recognition of his conquest and the creation of Manchukuo. The world order, which the United States had helped to build, was crumbling. Worse, two months before Hoover’s departure, Adolf Hitler took power in Germany.

As the 1932 presidential election approached, Republican Party officials were very pessimistic. Few observers believed that the incumbent president could be returned for a second term by the voters, especially because of the continuing economic crisis. Hoover was returned as presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Chicago on June 14, 1932, almost unanimously, while Charles Curtis was returned with much greater difficulty. This came barely a month before the so-called “Bonus Army” incident, which would further tarnish Hoover’s campaign. Moreover, the outgoing president’s promises were vague: unemployment benefits, additional federal credits for farmers, maintenance and increase of protectionism, maintenance of the gold standard. However, the only original proposal concerned unemployment benefits. Otherwise, Hoover perpetuated the Republican recipes. Hoover tried to keep a low profile, but was forced to defend his record. Many of the books published since 1930 were veritable pamphlets against the president and his policies. At his rare rallies, he was booed by the crowd. Hoover gave nine key speeches during the campaign, in which he spent a great deal of time defending his administration’s record and his vision of what the government should be. In contrast, the campaign of his opponent, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was much more aggressive. The Democratic presidential candidate proposed a “new deal” for the country in his acceptance speech in Chicago on July 2, 1932. He declares:

“I promise you, I promise myself a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It’s a call to arms.”

The New Deal he proposed was not based on any specific ideology for the time (it is now accepted that the New Deal was Keynesian and social-democratic). His program was not much more specific than Hoover’s, and focused mainly on economic issues. Among the proposals in Roosevelt’s program were the abolition of the eighteenth amendment, which established prohibition, reduction of federal spending and borrowing, abandonment of federal economic intervention, lowering of customs duties and liquidation of agricultural surpluses. Most of these proposals were unclear and sometimes even contradictory. Hoover described his opponent as “a chameleon on Scottish soil. But Roosevelt’s campaign was dynamic, especially since the governor was a much better speaker than Hoover. The candidate traveled nearly 50,000 miles across the country to make his ideas and program known.

On November 8, 1932, Hoover was soundly defeated by his Democratic opponent. He won in only six states, garnering just 59 electoral votes and winning only 39.59 per cent of the popular vote. He lost by nearly 26 points compared to the 1928 presidential election, which was unprecedented for an incumbent president (except for William Howard Taft in 1912, who was challenged by Theodore Roosevelt).

After the presidency

Soundly defeated in the 1932 presidential election, Hoover returned to Palo Alto, California after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration. He spent most of his time reading newspapers, angling, and working on his foundation, the Hoover Institution. Until the end of World War II, the former president was very unpopular, and for a long time was considered the main culprit of the Great Depression. Discreet during the first years of the Roosevelt presidency, he returned to the public debate from February 1935.

Two weeks after Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration, Hoover expressed his opposition to the New Deal for the first time, in a letter to one of his friends in which he wrote:

Hoover even judged two of the major acts passed by Congress, the National Recovery Administration and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, as “facist. His criticism of the Banking Act (en) was in the same vein, seeing it as “a gigantic step toward socialism. By being so active, Hoover hoped that his reputation would be restored and that he could win a second term. Despite his crushing defeat, he thought he could easily win the Republican Party’s nomination for the 1936 presidential election. However, his rhetoric was focused solely against the New Deal and the Democratic Party. Between February 1935 and the Republican National Convention of 1936, he gave a speech every month, to the point that the press referred to him as a “new Hoover. He visited 28 states during this period.

For Hoover, the two major themes of the 1936 presidential election would be the economy and the destruction of individual liberties, which he blamed on the New Deal. His rhetoric included a moral and spiritual dimension. Hoover was seen as a prophet, but not as a credible candidate. Thus, Kansas Governor Alf Landon was given the task of being the Republican Party’s presidential candidate to face Roosevelt. Landon was crushed by Roosevelt, while Hoover amplified his criticism of the New Deal. Increasingly, the former president identified himself as a conservative.

In 1938, he undertook a trip to Europe. On March 8, 1938, he met Adolf Hitler in Berlin, shortly before the Anschluss. During his stay in Germany, he stayed at Hermann Göring’s hunting lodge. Upon his return from his trip to Europe, he warned about the persecution of Jews in Germany. Privately, he thought Hitler was a mad and dangerous man. However, Hoover admired Germany’s economic success. Moreover, like many foreigners who visited the country and met with Nazi dignitaries during the period, the former president had been partly fooled. He was one of the most vocal opponents of the policy of appeasement pursued by the United Kingdom and followed by France.

After the invasion of Poland, Hoover opposed U.S. entry into the war, including the Lend-Lease program. He rejected Roosevelt’s proposal to coordinate the aid program for occupied countries, but with former comrades in the Commission for Relief of Belgium, he managed to set up a similar organization for Poland. After the invasion of Belgium by Nazi Germany, Hoover also provided aid for the civilian population, which German propaganda denied. He did the same for Finland, invaded by the Soviet Union during the Winter War. Hoover continued to refuse the entry of the United States into the war, even after Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa. On June 29, 1941, he directly expressed his opposition during a radio interview:

“If we go to war and Stalin wins, we will help him to impose communism even more in Europe and in the world. To go to war on Stalin’s side is more than a travesty. It is a tragedy.”

After the outbreak of war, Hoover was hardly called by Roosevelt to serve during the conflict, much to his regret, but his continuing unpopularity and enmity with Roosevelt made it almost impossible. He declined to run for president in 1944 and, at the request of Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, was hardly active in the campaign. That same year, he lost his wife and moved from his home in Palo Alto to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

After World War II, he became friends with the new President Harry Truman, despite the fact that they were not of the same party. The president appointed him to a commission to reform government. This commission elected him as its chairman, and the commission was named the Hoover Commission. The commission issued its findings, suggesting many changes to facilitate the president’s control over the bureaucracy. In fact, Hoover embraced the idea of a strong presidency in the Cold War era, which he had opposed throughout Roosevelt’s presidency. While actively supporting Thomas Dewey’s presidential bid in 1948, he remained on good terms with Truman. He actively supported the United Nations and the anti-communist campaign that was being waged in Congress, notably by Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy. In 1949, he declined the offer of Thomas Dewey, then Governor of New York State, to serve in the Senate seat vacated by the resignation of Robert F. Wagner.

In the 1952 presidential election, he supported Robert Taft, but the nomination went to General Dwight D. Eisenhower at the 1952 Republican National Convention. Eisenhower won the election against Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat. After becoming president, Eisenhower appointed Hoover to head a new commission. However, Hoover did not like him, and criticized Eisenhower’s inability to end some of the New Deal policies.

Upon entering the White House, John Fitzgerald Kennedy offered Hoover to head several commissions, which the former president declined. Nevertheless, he defended Kennedy after the failure of the Bay of Pigs landing and was upset by the news of his assassination.

During the last two years of his life, Hoover suffered from numerous health problems. In August 1962, he had to undergo surgery for a growth in his large intestine. In August 1964, he became the second president to reach the age of 90. He died in his apartment on the 31st floor of the Waldorf-Astoria on October 20, 1964, surrounded by his children, from internal bleeding and colon cancer. In his honor, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared 30 days of national mourning.

He was honored with a national funeral and his body was laid to rest under the Capitol Rotunda. He was buried on October 25, 1964 in West Branch, his birthplace. His wife Lou Henry, who was buried in Palo Alto at the time of his death in 1944, was later buried beside him.

Scientific journal articles

: document used as a source for the writing of this article.


: document used as a source for the writing of this article.

External links


  1. Herbert Hoover
  2. Herbert Hoover
  3. Les membres de cette communauté s’appellent Quakers.
  4. Résidence officielle du président des États-Unis.
  5. Résidence personnelle jusqu’en 1944.
  6. Résidence personnelle jusqu’à sa mort.
  7. Prononciation en anglais américain retranscrite selon la norme API.
  8. В начале 1930-х годов внешнеторговых оборот США составлял всего около 3 % от ВВП страны — о чём Рузвельт регулярно напоминал своему госсекретарю.
  9. Никто из многочисленных соратников никогда не видел Рузвельта с книгой в руках[9].
  10. Inquiry=onderzoek
  11. Burner, p. 6.
  12. a b Leuchtenburg 2009,, pp. 6–9.
  13. Big Games: College Football’s Greatest Rivalries – Page 222
  14. https://digitalcommons.pace.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1147&context=plr
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