Herbert Clark Hoover, 31st President of the USA
Herbert Hoover, my paternal 7th cousin 4x removed, was President of the United States from March 4, 1929 until March 4, 1933. In a strange twist of fate, he was defeated in his re-election bid by my 9th cousin, 2x removed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (more about him later).
My relationship to President Hoover is through his mother with our common ancestor being my 10th Great Grandfather, Thomas Lord (1585-1678). Strangely, Herbert's mother, Hulda Minthorn, was a Canadian with several generations of her family born in Canada although I am related to the Minthorn family through my American branch of my family (yet I am Canadian).
Herbert was born on August 10, 1874 in West Branch, Iowa (an area predominately populated by Quakers, which the Hoover's were) to Jesse Clark Hoover and Hulda Randall Minthorn. He was one of three children born to Jesse and Hulda with the others being his brother Theodore Jesse and his sister, Mary Blanche. Herbert's father, Jesse, died when Herbert was only 4 years old, in 1880. Only 4 years later, in 1884, Herbert's mother Hulda also died, leaving Herbert and his siblings orphans.
In 1885, Herbert was sent to live with his maternal uncle, John Minthorn, who was a Quaker physician and businessman living in Newberg, Oregon. Based on what I have read, Herbert had a less than ideal relationship with his uncle and resented the chores he was given. Herbert never attended high school, instead dropping out of school at the age of 13 to work as an office assistant at his uncle's real estate office in Salem, Oregon. However, Herbert did manage to gain entry to Stanford University in 1891 and graduated in 1895 with a degree in mining engineering. Hoover then found work in his field which took him to Australia. In 1898 Herbert was made Junior Partner at Bewick, Moreing & Company in Australia. However, Herbert clashed strongly with his boss which resulted in the senior managers of the company offering Hoover an interesting position in China. Hoover developed gold mines near Tianjin (near Beijing) and developed a deep interest in the history of China but quickly gave up on learning the language (something my distant cousin and I must have in common as I have only managed to learn a few phrases in my 22 years working in China!).
The Boxer Rebellion, which was an anti-imperial, anti-colonial and anti-Christian rebellion which took place in China from 1899-1901, broke out shortly after Herbert arrived in China. This left Herbert and several other foreign nationals trapped until a multi-national defeated the Boxer forces in the Battle of Tientsin which took place from July 13th to July 14th, 1900 in Tianjin. After the defeat of the Boxers, the Chinese Engineering and Mining Company, with which Bewick-Moreing had a joint venture, decided to establish a new company in which Bewick-Moreing had more control. After this new venture was established, Hoover became the operating partner in 1901. Hoover stayed with Bewick-Moreing until 1908 when he wanted to exit after the British government established two royal commissions into the conduct of the business in Australia.
After leaving Bewick-Moreing, Hoover operated as an independent mining consultant based in London. Hoover quickly established himself as a man who could turn around struggling mines and by 1914, Hoover had built personal wealth of around $4 million (over $100 million in today's money).
Herbert Hoover met his future wife, Lou Henry, the daughter of a banker from Monterey, California, while in his senior year at Stanford University. Hoover didn't have enough money to be able to afford to marry Lou Henry until 1898 when he received his promotion while working at Bewick-Moreing. Hoover returned briefly to the US to marry Lou and the couple remained married until Lou's death in 1944. Together they had two children, Herbert Hoover Jr., born in 1903, and Allan Henry Hoover, born in 1907. The Hoover family would travel the world together until after 1916 when they returned to the US and maintained homes in Palo Alto, California and Washington, DC.
While living in London in 1914, World War I broke out in Europe, an event which would change the course of Hoover's life. Hoover and other American businessmen who were living in London established a committee to help organize the return of the 100,000 Americans who were now stranded in Europe. Hoover was appointed chair of the committee and quickly took charge of distributing aid to the Americans trapped in Europe. Hoover worked 14 hour days and personally crossed the North Sea over to Belgium to meet with the occupying German authorities to negotiate the delivery of food to the besieged Belgians who the Germans refused to feed. This was allowed as the USA was still neutral in this conflict, not entering the war until April, 1917. The relief later extended to Northern France in 1915.
After the US declared war on Germany in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover to head up the U.S. Food Administration, a department of the government which was charged with ensuring the nation's food supply during the Great War. This appointment was welcomed by Hoover who had been hoping to gain a position within the Wilson administration since 1916. Hoover's main goal as the head of the Food Administration was to provide food to the Allies and to ensure prices remained stable in the US, and to prevent any food shortages. Under Hoover's guidance, 23 million metric tons of food was delivered to the Allies, and Hoover gained a reputation as an efficient administrator.
At the end of World War I (then called the Great War), Hoover was a close advisor to President Woodrow Wilson, and attended the Paris Peace Conference. Hoover also shared President Wilson's goal of establishing the League of Nations, which would ultimately fail with the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Hoover would also, much to the dismay of many American politicians, provide aid to the now defeated Germany, and also sent aid to Russia during the famine of 1921-1922 which claimed an estimated six million victims. Russia was still in the midst of a civil war during this time period, and although Hoover condemned the Bolsheviks and warned President Wilson about US intervention, he would not allow a potential twenty million Russians to starve to death. Soviet author Maxim Gorky remarked in July 1922 that "your help will enter history as a unique, gigantic achievement, worthy of the greatest glory, which will long remain in the memory of millions of Russians whom you have saved from death."
In the 1920 US election, Hoover, who previously held no party affiliation, declared himself a Republican and hoped to be put forward as a Presidential candidate. However, Hoover's actions during the Great War under President Wilson had alienated him from farmers and the conservative members of the Republican party. Warren G. Harding emerged as the successful candidate and ultimately was elected President in 1921.
As a reward for Hoover supporting Harding, he was appointed Secretary of Commerce, a position he held through President Harding and President Coolidge's terms in the oval office. While he was the Secretary of Commerce, Hoover was involved in many initiatives, including helping to pass the Radio Act of 1927. An early adopter of the power of radio, Hoover conducted radio conferences which helped in the organization and development of the regulation of radio broadcasting (much to the chagrin of many radio owners, Senators and Congressmen). Hoover also hosted radio broadcasts on traffic safety in order to address the growing carnage on American roadways. This grew into a broader conferences which discussed vehicle standards, rules of the road and traffic control. Hoover moderated these conferences and allowed the participants to come to agreements on ideas which were then submitted to various state and local governments to be turned into laws. This helped to promote uniform traffic laws and vehicle standards between states.
As Secretary of Commerce, Hoover encouraged standardization of products and to minimize labor losses due to trade disputes, lost time due to injuries and the reduction of crude oil waste during extraction and shipping. Hoover was also an advocate of early air travel and wanted to create a thriving private air industry assisted by government subsidies. Hoover encouraged the development of emergency landing fields, required that all runways be equipped with lights and radio signals and he established the federal government's power to inspect airplanes and to license all pilots. This last act helped pave the way for the later formation of the Federal Aviation Administration.
By 1928, Hoover had raised his visibility considerably in Washington, even overshadowing President Coolidge during his handling of the Mississippi Flood in 1927. Hoover was careful not to alienate Coolidge however, as Coolidge was still eligible to run for re-election in 1928. When Coolidge surprised everyone, including Hoover by announcing that he would not seek re-election, Hoover began to seek his nomination as the Republican party candidate for 1928. Although Hoover had worked hard under Coolidge's term in office, the President refused to give his public support to Hoover. Even without Coolidge's recommendation, Hoover won the Republican nomination on the first vote and went on the win the Presidential race of 1928.
Herbert Clark Hoover became the 31st President of the United States on March 4, 1929. His vision to eliminate poverty and grow private and public partnerships helped boost an already bullish stock market. However, the good times were not to last, and on October 24, 1929 (black Thursday) the stock market started to crash. The market crash continued until October 29, 1929, and became known as Black Tuesday. Stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed, and the worst depression the world has known to date began its 12 year run. By the end of 1930, US unemployment sat at 11.9%; by mid 1931, that rate had risen to 15%.
Hoover, who believed that the Federal Government should not directly provide relief to US citizens, opened the door to wide criticism from fellow politicians, including New York Governor (and another of my paternal cousins) Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Governor Roosevelt launched the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration to assist the unemployed. Hoover, and the Federal Government, continued to withhold aid to the thousands of unemployed. Soon terms such as "Hooverville", describing shanty towns filled with unemployed men and families, and "Hoover-leather", meaning a piece of cardboard to cover up holes in worn out shoes, became commonplace.
The Great Depression was a world-wide event, and in Europe, some democratic governments fell, and were replaced with parties such as the Nazi party in Germany, led by Adolph Hitler.
While the causes of the Great Depression cannot be laid at the feet of any one man, President Herbert Hoover is often saddled with a great deal of blame for the outcome of the Depression. In hindsight some of Hoover's actions, or inactions, can clearly be seen as ineffective and better choices could have been made. Although Hoover had done many great things during his time in political office, he would be a one-term President, soundly defeated by New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1932 election race. In fact, so many people blamed President Hoover for the state of the US economy that Roosevelt won the popular vote by a margin not seen since the US Civil War.
Hoover held out hope for another run at the Presidency in the 1930's, but as history tells us, that was not to be: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt went on to serve an unprecedented 4 terms as President. Hoover did remain active in politics, and even traveled to Nazi Germany in 1938 and met with Adolph Hitler in a meeting which convinced Hoover that Hitler was crazy, but posed no threat to the US. Hoover made his feelings about the treatment of Jews in Germany known to Hitler, but they fell on deaf ears. During his trip to Nazi Germany, Hoover stayed at Herman Goring's hunting lodge.
Hoover assisted President Harry S. Truman at the end of World War II by determining the food needs of the occupied Germans. Hoover toured Germany and produced a number of reports of the conditions he witnessed, many critical of the treatment of the Germans by the US occupation. Hoover managed to get a school meals program started at German schools location in the US and English occupied zones. Hoover remained active in politics through the Truman presidency, but declined an appointment offered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower due to his strong dislike of Eisenhower.
Hoover wrote several books during his lifetime, none of which yours-truly has yet read, but I will now be putting them on my list. Researching this little page on the life of my cousin has opened my eyes to the many great things he did, and to remove some of the stigma associated with his Presidency during the Great Depression.
Herbert Clark Hoover died at the age of 90 on October 20, 1964 in New York City. Hoover left behind a legacy of being the unfortunate President at the time of the Great Depression and so much suffering in the US and around the globe, but the great humanitarian work he did, and the untold millions of lives he save should never be forgotten.