"With impressive proof on all sides of magnificent progress, no one can rightly deny the fundamental correctness of our economic system." Herbert Clark Hoover
in 1928, one year before The Great Depression
(August 10, 1874 — October 20, 1964) was the 31st President of the United States (1929
-1933), right after Calvin Coolidge
and before FDR
, and the twelfth from the Republican Party. A good person
who got caught in a unworkable situation, he had The Great Depression
happen during his watch, but didn't cause it
While well known as being blamed for the Great Depression, prior to his presidency he was known as something of a miracle man, especially with his humanitarian aid. Originally a mining engineer, he rose up corporate ranks at a British mining firm in Australia and China. While in China—inspired in part by his Quaker faith—he began to take up humanitarian causes, trying to improve the lot of his workers and the Chinese in general. (He and his wife Lou Henry also learned Mandarin; they would later use it to keep from being spied on in the White House.) He eventually started his own mining consulting firm; by his 40th birthday in 1914, he had investments in every continent but Antarctica, offices in six cities around the world, and a personal fortune of $4 million (that's about $95 million in 2013 dollars). At the same time, he lectured and wrote about mining and—with Lou Henry (a noted Latinist and geologist in her own right)—translated and annotated the massive 16th-century mining guide De re metallica
from Latin (the first time ever into English and still highly regarded; it remains the authoritative English translation and influenced translations into other languages).
He served during World War I
to help make sure the United States was able to send food to where it was needed, such as America's war allies. And his humanitarianism was such that it was reported a letter addressed to 'Miracle Man, Washington DC' was delivered straight to him. He served as the Secretary of Commerce under Warren Harding
and Calvin Coolidge
, further increasing his popularity with the public. Due to the economic prosperity of the time, he won the election of 1928 rather easily. He's the last member of the Cabinet to be elected president, and one of only two who men won without ever getting elected to public office before (the other being William Howard Taft
). By the way, his equivalent up north
was R. B. Bennett.
During the Depression, though, all of this changed very quickly. Starting with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the American economy chaotically saw the prosperity of the 1920's turn into the worst economic crisis in all of world history. From beginning to end, Hoover's presidency saw unemployment rise to an astounding 25% of the workforce, over 60% of the population falling into poverty, the once prosperous farms of the Great Plains becoming the desert of the Dust Bowl, and the Dow Jones losing over 88% of its value in four years.note
America needed to blame somebody, and he was it. Not that he helped his cause with a "hands-off" approach to the economy in favor of letting it fix itself (much like his predecessor
), which was interpreted as callousness to the plight of working Americans. What actions that were pursued by the Hoover administration usually made it even worse
, like the passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, a 60% tariff tax that was meant to protect American businesses from foreign competition, only caused a trade war as other countries raised their tariffs in response, crippling international trade and deepening the economic crisis. In fact, over 1,000
economists signed a petition begging Hoover not to sign the tariff bill. There was also some spectacular mishandling of the Federal Reserve which prevented it from doing pretty much anything it could have done to help the economy and everything it could have done to worsen it. Damn near every major sign of poverty a person could have around them was branded irrevocably
with Hoover's name — turned-out pockets were "Hoover flags", and shanty towns set up for the influx of homeless (like a well-known example in Central Park in New York City
) were called "Hoovervilles." Most infamously, when 20,000 World War I
veterans marched on Washington demanding bonuses, Hoover sent General Douglas MacArthur
and the army to forcefully clear them out. Instead, MacArthur went further than planned and used weapons and tear gas to force them to leave, outraging the public.
With no end to the Depression in sight, Hoover and the Republicans easily lost
the election of 1932 to Franklin D. Roosevelt
and the Democrats. However, towards the end of his term, Hoover switched positions and admitted that the economy genuinely needed the government's help. Some of the actions that he then took, such as increased corporate taxes and public works projects (most famously the Boulder Dam near Las Vegas
, which is now called, fittingly enough, the Hoover Dam), served as the blueprint for Franklin D. Roosevelt
's (comparatively) successful New Deal, though Hoover felt that Roosevelt went too far in that direction. Additionally, Hoover's treatment of Latin American nations during his presidency was an important influence on Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy towards America's southern neighbors during World War II
. It was Hoover who finally withdrew American troops from Haiti and Nicaragua after years of occupation. Hoover's nomination of Chalres Evan Hughes as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
caused FDR some trouble for the rest of the 1930's because he usually opposed the more extreme New Deal legislation.
After his presidency, Hoover rehabilitated this reputation through further charity work (both in poor Third World countries and in Germany after World War II
), his work with the Boy Scouts of America, and by publicly denouncing the draconian Morgenthau Plan. He also worked with two of his successors, Harry Truman
and Dwight D. Eisenhower
, as leader of a board that advised the president on how to make the federal government more efficient. By the time of his death he was once again one of the most admired men in America, but nobody seems to remember this today
. He lived a very long time; Hoover had the longest retirement of any former president until he was surpassed in 2012 by Jimmy Carter
(who, coincidentally, is also far more acclaimed for his non-presidential career than for his time in the Oval Office). Additionally, he didn't just outlive his two predecessors
; he also outlived two of his successors
, dying 32 years after his term was over in late 1964. (Conspiracy theorists who whisper about the Presidential Guard rehearsing a funeral just before Kennedy's assassination forget that the Guard was actually rehearsing for Hoover, whose death had been expected. As it turned out he held on for a year.)
Just before the election of 1928, Hoover was in charge of recovery efforts after the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. More humanitarian laurels, but he also struck an unfortunate deal with African-American leaders where he promised to champion black causes during his upcoming presidential run in exchange for patience with the (lack of) assistance going to black flood victims. Hoover never delivered on his promise; this, combined with clever Democratic position and maneuvering, is how the Party of Lincoln
lost the black vote. To be fair to him, he had the whole Depression thing to deal with while he was in office, and that was kind of a big deal.
The naming of Hoover Dam was originally rather controversial, as it was his own Secretary of the Interior, Ray Wilbur, who first coined the name in 1930. Wilbur justified his decision by citing other such public works named for presidents, but none had been named for a sitting
president, much less one whose popularity was in steep decline. Despite efforts by the FDR administration to have Boulder Dam be its official name, "Hoover Dam" had gained enough popular usage that both names were used interchangeably. It wasn't until 1947 that Hoover Dam became its official, legal name; by then, Hoover's image was sufficiently rehabilitated (and he was long removed from his term of office) for the name to be well-received.
He's also the only president born in and native to Iowa, although when elected he legally resided in California (making him the first of three Californian Presidents, Richard Nixon
—a Southern California boy born and raised—and Ronald Reagannote
being the other two). Either way, he was the first president born in and elected from a state west of the Mississippi River.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" officially became the country's national anthem during his term, and the Empire State Building was completed in 1931.
Herbert Hoover in fiction
- In the 1990s The Untouchables, the series' premiere story used the urban legend that it was Al Capone's noisy partying one night which disturbed Hoover's sleep that convinced the President to sic Eliot Ness on the gangster.
- All in the Family famously references him in their Theme Song.
- A brief "imagination" gag in Arthur places class clown Buster in the role of Hoover, attempting to appease the starving and out-of-work Americans with a "rubber chicken in every pot" routine. It doesn't go over well.
- There's a song in the musical Annie titled "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover". Sarcasm Mode abides.
- In Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191, Hoover is elected as VP for Calvin Coolidge, but Coolidge dies before taking office and thus Hoover becomes President. Though the Depression started before his rule, he's essentially condemned as a do-nothing and unseated by the Socialists at the next election.
- His portrait can briefly be seen in the background of the scene in Its A Wonderful Life where the townspeople run on protagonist George Bailey's building and loan. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance.
- In the live-action Transformers film, Hoover is established as having founded Sector Seven, and arranging for Hoover Dam to be built to house the AllSpark (as well as the frozen form of Megatron). In the Expanded Universe media of the film franchise, his involvement with the discovery of Cybertronian tech on Earth dates back to his time in China.