Herbert Hoover: Thirty-First President of the United States

Portrait of Herbert Hoover (1874 - 1964), the 31st president of the United States, New York, 1947. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)
Bachrach / Contributor/ Archive Photos/ Getty Images

Hoover was born on August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa. He grew up a Quaker. From age 10, he lived in Oregon. His father died when Hoover was 6. Three years later, his mother died, and he and his two siblings were sent off to live with various relatives. He attended a local school as a youth. He never graduated from high school. He was then enrolled as part of the first class at Stanford University in California. He graduated with a degree in geology.

Family Ties

Hoover was the son of Jesse Clark Hoover, a blacksmith and salesman, and Huldah Minthorn, a Quaker minister. He had one brother and one sister. On February 10, 1899, Herbert Hoover married Lou Henry. She was his fellow student studying Geology at Stanford University. Together they had two children: Herbert Hoover Jr. and Allan Hoover. Herbert Jr. would be a politician and businessman while Allan would be a humanitarian who founded his father's presidential library. 

Herbert Hoover's Career Before the Presidency

Hoover worked from 1896-1914 as a Mining Engineer. During World War I, he headed the American Relief Committee which helped Americans stranded in Europe. He then was the head of the Commission for the Relief of Belgium and the American Relief Administration which sent out tons of food and supplies to Europe. He served as the U.S. Food Administrator (1917-18). He was involved in other war and peace efforts. From 1921-28 he served as the Secretary of Commerce for Presidents Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

Becoming the President

In 1928, Hoover was nominated as the Republican candidate for president on the first ballot with Charles Curtis as his running mate. He ran against Alfred Smith, the first Roman Catholic to be nominated to run for president. His religion was an important part of the campaign against him. Hoover ended up winning with 58% of the vote and 444 out of 531 votes.

Events and Accomplishments of Herbert Hoover’s Presidency

In 1930, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was enacted to help protect farmers and others from foreign competition. Unfortunately, other nations also enacted tariffs which meant that trade around the world slowed down.

On Black Thursday, October 24, 1929, stock prices began falling heavily. Then on October 29, 1929, the stock market crashed even further which began the Great Depression. Because of massive speculation including many individuals borrowing money to purchase stocks thousands of people lost everything with the stock market crash. However, the Great Depression was a worldwide event. During the Depression, unemployment rose to 25%. Further, around 25% of all banks failed. Hoover did not see the enormity of the problem soon enough. He did not enact programs to help the unemployed but instead, put some measures in place to help businesses.

In May 1932, approximately 15,000 veterans marched on Washington to demand immediate payment of bonus insurance money that had been awarded in 1924. This was known as the Bonus March. When Congress did not answer their demands, many of the marchers stayed and lived in shantytowns. Hoover sent General Douglas MacArthur in to move the veterans out. They used tear gas and tanks to make them leave and set fire to their tents and shacks.

The Twentieth Amendment was passed during Hoover's time in office. This was called the 'lame-duck amendment' because it decreased the time when an outgoing president would be in office after the November election. It moved the date of inauguration up from March 4th to January 20th.

Post-Presidential Period

Hoover ran for reelection in 1932 but was defeated by Franklin Roosevelt. He retired to Palo Alto, California. He opposed the New Deal. He was appointed as the coordinator of the Food Supply for World Famine (1946-47). He was chairman of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government or Hoover Commission (1947-49) and the Commission on Government Operations (1953-55) which were intended find ways to streamline government. He died on October 20, 1964, of cancer.

Historical Significance

Herbert Hoover was president during one of the worst economic disasters in America's history. He was unprepared to take the necessary measures to help the unemployed. Further, his actions against groups like the Bonus Marchers made his name synonymous with the Depression. For example, shanties were called "Hoovervilles" and newspapers used to cover people from the cold were called "Hoover Blankets."