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HOOVER, Herbert Clark (1874-1964)

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HOOVER, Herbert Clark (1874-1964), 31st president of the U.S. (1929-33), who held office during the early part of the Great Depression and presided over the transition from a business-managed economy to the government intervention of the New Deal. Hoover was born on Aug. 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa. His parents and most of his close relatives were rural Quakers, an influence that was decisive and lifelong. Entering Stanford University with that institution's first freshman class, Hoover studied geology and mining. There he met Lou Henry (1875-1944), then the only woman geology major attending Stanford, who later became (1897) his wife. Managing and reorganizing mining properties in Western Australia and China (where he and Mrs. Hoover endured the siege of Tientsin during the Boxer Rebellion) and elsewhere, Hoover was a millionaire by the time he was 40 years old.Relief Work. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 Hoover organized and assisted the return of thousands of Americans stranded in Europe and then turned to the aid of war-torn Belgium. Overcoming resistance from the warring powers, Hoover's Commission for the Relief of Belgium during the next five years spent $1 billion in government loans and private donations, operated its own fleet of 200 ships, and transported 5 million metric tons of food. Returning home after the U.S. entry into the war in 1917, Hoover headed the Food Administration, which sought by voluntary methods to curb wartime profiteering in food supplies. After the war an American Relief Administration under Hoover's leadership distributed food, clothing, and medical supplies to refugees in Eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union, although Hoover personally detested communism.Secretary of Commerce. Hoover's reputation as engineer and humanitarian projected him onto the political stage. Mentioned as a presidential possibility as early as 1920, he served (1921-28) as secretary of commerce under Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Believing neither in traditional laissez-faire nor in economic planning and direction by the state, Hoover preached a doctrine of voluntary cooperation by privately associated Americans with the support, but not the control, of government. His management of flood relief on the Mississippi in 1927 showed this philosophy in action. He did, however, sponsor the expansion of government regulation in two areas of new technology, radiobroadcasting and commercial aviation. He made federally collected statistics more usefully available and encouraged manufacturers to standardize parts and supplies. Hoover saw the Department of Commerce as an important support for the expansion of American business overseas, and in the area of foreign commerce the department expanded its operations tremendously at the expense, some felt, of the State Department's traditional role. Hoover as President. Nominated for president by the Republicans in 1928, Hoover defeated Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York, the Democratic candidate, in a campaign marred by partisan use of the issue of religion (Smith was a Roman Catholic), a controversy in which Hoover, to his credit, did not participate.The depression. Inaugurated in March 1929, Hoover enjoyed only a half year of the economic prosperity with which the country had become familiar during the 1920s. In the fall, after the stock market had crashed, he took unprecedented measures to deal with the depression that followed. In the interest of maintaining consumer purchasing power, he urged business leaders not to cut wages, as had been their usual custom during hard times. The policy was only temporarily successful; production declined, unemployment grew, and eventually wages for those still employed were cut after all. In addition, the government's own policies, leading to a drastic decline in the money supply, may have hastened the slide into the depression. Hoover sanctioned increasing government expenditure for useful public works, and after some prodding, government loans to business firms through a Reconstruction Finance Corporation. As the economy continued in stagnation, however, private and local relief funds became exhausted; against his own voluntaristic principles, therefore, Hoover reluctantly turned to direct federal spending for welfare purposes. Politically, it was too late; Hoover's Democratic opponents had fashioned an image of him as a reactionary unwilling to do anything to help people in distress. Unfair though it was, in light of Hoover's previous record, this stereotype haunted him, and his party, for the rest of his life, even though his opponents, when they came to power in 1933, wrestled with the same intractable problems until wartime production and employment came to their rescue. Hoover believed that the causes of the Great Depression were international and that the remedy for it must be sought in the same fashion. He therefore sponsored (1931) a moratorium on interallied war debts. He was planning an international monetary conference in London when his defeat for reelection intervened.Foreign affairs. Hoover's foreign policy was also based on voluntary cooperation. His overtures to Latin America, in contrast to the traditional U.S. imperialism in that area, foreshadowed the good neighbor policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his secretary of state, Cordell Hull. He opposed retaliation against Japan for its invasion of Manchuria (1931), rejecting the idea that the U.S. had a responsibility to police the world. Later Career. Nominated for reelection in 1932, Hoover was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He wrote and spoke against Roosevelt's New Deal, but little attention was paid to him except at Republican national conventions, where he ritually appeared every four years to be hailed as an elder statesman. Under Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, however, he headed two groups (known as the Hoover Commissions) that planned an extensive reorganization of the executive branch of the government. Hoover's books include American Individualism (1922), The Challenge to Liberty (1934), and Memoirs (3 vol., 1951-52). He died Oct. 20, 1964, in New York City. P.A.C.


Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die. And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow, and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.
HERBERT HOOVER, speech (1944)

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