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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: A Most Admired, Then Reviled Man

By Tom Morrow

By the second decade of the 20th century, Herbert Hoover was the most admired man in America, primarily for his World War I humanitarian relief efforts, but by the third decade, he was one of the most reviled.

Born Aug. 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa, Herbert Clark Hoover became President of the United States in 1929. Hoover was a mining engineer by profession and came into political prominence as head of the U.S. Food Administration feeding millions after World War I. In his early life, Hoover was in the inaugural class of Stanford University. When he was promoted to a mining job in China, Hoover married Lou Henry, his Stanford sweetheart.
While in China, the Hoovers learned Mandarin Chinese and used it during their tenure in the White House to keep eavesdroppers from listening to their private conversations.

In June 1900, the fighting from the Boxer Rebellion trapped the Hoovers in Tianjin. Hoover personally guided rescuing U.S. Marines around the European settlement in Tianjin.
In 1909, Hoover published his university lectures at Columbia and Stanford, which became a standard college textbook. By 1914, Hoover was a wealthy man, with an estimated personal fortune of $4 million.

When World War I began, Hoover vaulted onto the world stage organizing the escape of 120,000 Americans from war-torn Europe. He distributed food, clothing, steamship tickets and cash so they could  return home.

For the next two years, Hoover worked from London, administering the distribution of over 2 million tons of food to 9 million Belgium war victims.He made more than 40 trips between England and Germany to ensure the safe passage of the food.

In 1917, when the United States entered the war, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover to head the U.S. Food Administration.

After the war, Hoover organized shipments of food to millions of starving people in Central Europe as well as providing aid to the defeated German nation, plus relief to famine-stricken areas of Russia.

The New York Times named Hoover one of the “10 Most Important Living Americans.” The Democratic Party saw Hoover as a potential Presidential candidate; President Wilson privately preferred Hoover as his successor. However, Hoover became the leading Republican candidate and was elected in 1928, by a landslide. Hoover later admitted that when he was growing up, the town drunk was a Democrat and he, as a teetotaler, wanted nothing to do with that.

When the Wall Street Crash of 1929, struck less than eight months after Hoover took office, he tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression with government projects such as the Hoover Dam. A downward economic spiral set the stage for Hoover’s 1932 reelection defeat by Franklin D. Roosevelt. For the remainder of the decade the public generally blamed the nation’s economic woes on Hoover.
Hoover left the White House with some bitterness as Democratic politicians found him to be a convenient scapegoat. Even Roosevelt engaged in various petty acts such as having Hoover’s name struck from the Hoover Dam, which, for many years, would officially be known as Boulder Dam.
Following World War II, Hoover became friends with President Harry S. Truman. Because of Hoover’s previous experience with Germany at the end of World War I, Truman selected the former President to ascertain Germany’s food status and how best to feed war-torn Europe.
While leaders from both political arenas had written off Hoover for being politically dead, in 1947, Truman appointed him to head a commission designed to foster greater efficiency throughout the federal bureaucracy.
As a writer, among his literary works is “The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson,” which became a bestseller.
Hoover died on Oct. 20, 1964, at the age of 90. Though historians continue to rank Hoover in the lower half of successful chief executives, closer scrutiny will show the 31st President’s body of work and contributions to mankind far surpasses most of his White House counterparts.


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