Hoover, Herbert

Hoover is known for being elected president by one of the biggest majorities in the history of the Republican Party. Hoover's administration worked for legislation to protect children, to help small businesses and homeowners, and legislation for the reform of criminals. For his last 50 years of service he did not accept any payment for his work.

Biographical Highlights

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1864), best known for his role as the 31st United States President, was born and is buried in West Branch, Iowa. He began his life in Iowa under strict Quaker morality. The Quakers believed that people should work well together through rational discussion and compromise. They were dedicated to peace, and the belief that with good common reason and strategic planning one can obtain an uncluttered conscience (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

During his lifetime, Hoover traveled all over the world. Between 1902 and 1907 Hoover and his family, consisting of wife, Lou, eldest son, Herbert Junior, and youngest son, Allan, circled the globe five times (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). After his parents died Hoover went to live with and uncle in Oregon. From there he attended Stanford with what was later known as the pioneer class in October, 1891. He graduated with a degree in geology and by March of 1897, Hoover was on his first trip east of the Mississippi on his way to Australia to work for the British mining firm Bewick, Moreing and Company (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). After gaining technology and management skills in Australia, he used his skills in China where he managed various mine resources, plus dealt with major economic problems and rebellion (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

Hoover did not become president until 1928, after he had already been appointed U.S. Food Administrator and Secretary of Commerce by Presidents Wilson and Harding. During his Presidency he completed plans to build the Grand Coulee Dam to control flooding along the Mississippi. He signed a treaty with Canada to create the St. Lawrence Waterway. Also, the acreage of national forests and parks increased by five million acres. Airmail service had been reorganized, passenger service on airlines had tripled and cost per mile for air travel was cut by 80 percent. He also opened airmail to South America. His administration worked for legislation to protect children and he wrote a Children’s Charter calling for the protection of the rights of every child regardless of race, color, or situation (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

Historic Roots

While Hoover was working in China, there was a political insurrection known as the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers, also known as the Society of Righteous Harmonious Fists, believed that they possessed supernatural powers that protected them from harm. They planned to totally destroy every foreign person or thing in China. They also planned to exterminate any Chinese associated with foreigners or Christianity (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). The Hoovers, along with other foreign families, were trapped in the city of Tientsin, with the protection of a few soldiers from several other foreign countries. Despite his plight, Hoover directed the building of barricades and joined fire fighters. He organized the provision of food and water to six hundred anti-Boxer Chinese who had taken refuge with the foreigners. The rebellion began in June 1900 and ended in August 1900 when relief forces arrived and took Hoover and his wife to safety in England (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

In August of 1914 when the Hoovers were living in London, England war broke out in Europe. Thousands of American tourists flooded into London with the hopes of gaining passage back to the United States. The US Embassy asked Hoover to aid in helping the stranded Americans. Hoover headed the Committee of American Residents in London for Assistance to American Travelers (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). This committee aided over 120,000 Americans by loaning funds, getting them passage on ships, and helping them to get food and lodging in England (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

While Hoover was in England, German soldiers had invaded the small country of Belgium, which chose to fight back. During this German occupation, food shortage became a problem because the Germans refused to supply food to the civilians and the Belgians imported a majority of their food. Soon the country was starving (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). With the urging of Walter Hines Page, the American Ambassador to Great Britain, Hoover decided to make the Belgian cause his personal crusade. The Committee for Relief in Belgium (CRB) was created. The CRB organized the charity of the world, obtained an American volunteer staff in Belgium for relief work, and assured the allies and Germany that the CRB was a neutral effort (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). Throughout the four-year war Hoover’s CRB fed eleven million people in Belgium and northern France. He collected more that 1 billion dollars to finance the CRB operations (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).


Herbert Hoover first became involved in politics when the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. President Wilson called on Hoover to be the U.S. Food Administer. His role was to provide food for the American army, other allies, for allied civilians, and for the American people. He completed this task by asking people to serve the nation voluntarily by food conservation (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). He did not want laws to regulate food; instead he planned to have American homes eat in such a way as to leave more food to be shipped abroad. Hoover’s plan reduced domestic consumption of food by 15 percent without rationing. American armies were fed and a food surplus prevented a post-war famine in Europe (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

Warren G. Harding was elected to the United States Presidency in 1920. He assigned Hoover to Secretary of Commerce. His goal as Secretary of Commerce was to transform the department into a service organization, while keeping in mind the delicate line between government power and private enterprise (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). Hoover worked to develop major projects for navigation, irrigation of dry lands, electrical power, and flood control. Hoover was always eager to fight for and serve children. While he was Secretary of Commerce he became president of the American Child Health Organization. He raised funds to promote health education in schools and communities. Also during this time, he formulated The Child’s Bill of Rights, that advocated good health and hygiene practices for children, and Hoover supported efforts to immunize and vaccinate against small pox and diphtheria (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

Herbert Hoover’s greatest and best-known political involvement was being elected president by one of the biggest majorities in the history of the Republican Party (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). During his presidency the United States was in tough economic times. By the summer months of 1932 the depression reached its worst point. There were 12 million people unemployed and 18 million on governmental relief (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). Despite problems, Hoover made reforms in the proceedings of justice in bankruptcy practice to help small businesses and homeowners. He designed legislation for the reform of criminals. Also, he made three long-lasting appointments to the Supreme Court: Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, and Justices Owen Roberts and Benjamin Cardozo (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

On the foreign front, he led the United States to a greater international cooperation towards world peace with the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). This document stated that the United States would not recognize territories that were gained by force. He developed the Good Neighbor policy with Latin America, and ordered the withdrawal of troops from Nicaragua and Haiti (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). Despite these gains Hoover was not reelected as president in 1932.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

When Hoover helped to establish the CRB in Belgium his policy was not to accept a salary or any kid of remuneration. Many of his colleagues were impressed and followed his example (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). While working for the CRB, Hoover requested that an accounting firm keep the books and records for the committee so that in the future nobody could claim that they either stole or made money from the relief effort. When the auditors presented the final financial report it showed the less that one percent of the CRB money was used for administrative expenses (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

In the spring of 1927 a great flood broke the banks and levees of the Mississippi River. Water covered the land from Cairo, Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. Over a million people were driven from their homes while two million acres of crops, thousands of cattle, and millions of dollars in buildings and property was destroyed (National Archives and Records Administration 2005). In response to this tragedy, Hoover headed a drive for the Red Cross, which collected 15 million dollars (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

After being elected president of the United States, Hoover chose to bank his entire presidential salary and donate it to charity. From the day Hoover organized the Belgium relief efforts in 1940, until his death 50 years later Hoover never accepted any payment for public service (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

Key Related Ideas

Philanthropy is derived from the Greek language, meaning, "love for mankind." Modern definitions include the concept of voluntary giving by an individual or group to promote the common good and improve the quality of life (National Philanthropic Trust 2005).

Food Organization is the conservation of food in order to make food available to ship to other parts of the world. During WWII fourteen million families within the United States pledged to “saving, substituting, practicing self-denial, and thus helping win the war” (Britannica Student Encyclopedia 2005).

Hoover Commission operated 1947–49 and 1953–55; created to find ways to reduce the number of federal government departments and increase their efficiency (Britannica Student Encyclopedia 2005).

Important People Related to the Topic 

  • Lou Henry Hoover (1874-1944) was the wife of Herbert Hoover. She was an active participant in the Girl Scout movement, including service as its president. Hoover described her as "a symbol of everything wholesome in American life” (The White House 2005).
  • Walter Hines Page (1855-1918) was an American journalist and diplomat who was U.S. ambassador to Great Britain by President Woodrow Wilson. He did much to improve Anglo-American relations, but his outspoken sympathetic attitude toward the Allied cause in World War I brought a rift between him and Wilson, who was striving to maintain strict American neutrality (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia 2005).
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) was the man who defeated Hoover at his second attempt at presidency. Roosevelt was elected for four consecutive terms and help the United States recover from the depression.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization, led by volunteers, that provides relief to victims of disasters and helps people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies (American National Red Cross 2005). 
  • The Boys and Girls Clubs of America works to inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens (Boys and Girls Clubs of America 2005). After his presidency Hoover became chairman of the board of the Boys’ Clubs of America. Hoover gave over 25 years of service to the Boys’ Clubs (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).
  • After his presidency Hoover headed the Famine Emergency Commission that would study the crisis of famine and prepare a program to deal with its consequences (National Archives and Records Administration 2005).

Related Web Sites

The American President Website, at www.americanpresident.org/history/herberthoover/, provides information in great detail about the events that happened during the Hoover Administration. It provides information on how Hoover dealt with the depression and his political views.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum site, at www.hoover.archives.gov , provides detailed information on Hoover’s life including a biography, chronology, and service learning information.

The Red Cross site, at www.redcross.org, is an organization that Hoover was involved in that is still strong and in the public eye to this day. The Red Cross aided in the flood of the Mississippi in 1927 and was still very visible during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

American National Red Cross. American Red Cross. www.redcross.org.

Boys and Girls Clubs of America. The Official Site of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Americahttps://www.bgca.org/Pages/index.aspx

National Archives and Records Administration. Herbert Clark Hoover: A Biographical Sketch.  www.hoover.archives.gov/education/hooverbio.html.

National Philanthropic Trust. Philanthropy Dictionary.  www.nptrust.org/philanthropy/philanthropy_dictionary.asp.

The White House. Lou Henry Hoover. [updated 2005; Accessed 7 December, 2005]. Available from www.whitehouse.gov/history/firstladies/lh31.html.