Herbert Hoover was born on August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa, the first of his office born in that state and west of the Mississippi River. His father, Jessie Hoover (1849–1880), was a blacksmith and farm implement store owner, of German (Pfautz, Wehmeyer) and Swiss (Huber, Burkhart) descent. Jessie and his own father Eli had moved to Iowa from Ohio twenty years prior. Hoover's mother, Hulda Randall Minthorn (1849–1884), was born in Norwich, Ontario, Canada, and had English and Irish ancestry. Both parents were Quakers.
Around age two "Bertie", as he was called during that time, contracted a serious bout of croup, and was momentarily thought to have died until resuscitated by his uncle, John Minthorn. As a young child he was often referred to by his father as "my little stick in the mud" when he repeatedly got trapped in the mud crossing the unpaved street. Herbert's family figured prominently in the town's public prayer life, due almost entirely to mother Hulda's role in the church. His father, noted by the local paper for his "pleasant, sunshiny disposition", died in 1880; after working admirably to retire her husband's debts, retain their life insurance, and care for the children, his mother passed away in 1884, leaving Hoover an orphan at the age of nine. Fellow Quaker Lawrie Tatum was appointed as Hoover's guardian.
After a brief stay with one of his grandmothers in Kingsley, Iowa, Hoover lived the next 18 months with his uncle Allen Hoover in West Branch. In November 1885 he went to Newberg, Oregon, to live with his uncle Dr. John Minthorn, a physician and businessman whose own son had died the year before. The Minthorn household was considered cultured and educational, and imparted a strong work ethic. For two and a half years, Hoover attended Friends Pacific Academy (now George Fox University), and then worked as an office assistant in his uncle's real estate office, the Oregon Land Company, in Salem, Oregon. Though he did not attend high school, Hoover attended night school and learned bookkeeping, typing and mathematics.
Hoover entered Stanford University in 1891, its inaugural year, after failing all the entrance exams (except mathematics) and then being tutored for the summer in Palo Alto. The first-year students were not required to pay tuition. Hoover claimed to be the very first student at Stanford, by virtue of having been the first person in the first class to sleep in the dormitory. While at the university, he was the student manager of both the baseball and football teams and was a part of the inaugural Big Game versus rival the University of California (Stanford won). Hoover graduated in 1895 with a degree in geology. He earned his way through four years of college working at various jobs on and off campus, including the Arkansas and United States Geological Survey. Throughout his tenure at Stanford he was adamantly opposed to the fraternity system.
When President Calvin Coolidge announced in 1927 that he would not seek a full term of office in the 1928 presidential election, Hoover became the leading Republican candidate, despite the fact Coolidge was lukewarm on Hoover, often deriding his ambitious and popular Commerce Secretary as "Wonder Boy". Coolidge had been reluctant to choose Hoover as his successor; on one occasion he remarked that "for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice - all of it bad. I was particularly offended by his comment to 'shit or get off the pot'." Even so, Coolidge had no desire to split the party by publicly opposing the popular Commerce Secretary's nomination. The delegates did consider nominating Vice President Charles Dawes to be Hoover's running mate. But Coolidge (who hated Dawes) remarked that this would be "a personal affront" to him, and the convention selected Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas instead. His only real challenger was Frank Orren Lowden. Hoover received much favorable press coverage in the months leading up to the convention. Lowden's campaign manager complained that newspapers were full of "nothing but advertisements for Herbert Hoover and Fletcher's Castoria". Hoover's reputation, experience, and popularity coalesced to give him the nomination on the first ballot, with Senator Charles Curtis named as his running mate.
Hoover campaigned for efficiency and the Republican record of prosperity against Democrat Alfred E. Smith. Smith likewise was a proponent of efficiency earned as governor of New York. Both candidates were pro-business, and each promised to improve conditions for farmers, reform immigration laws, and maintain America's isolationist foreign policy. Where they differed was on the Volstead Act which outlawed the sale of liquor and beer. Smith was a "wet" who called for its repeal, whereas Hoover gave limited support for prohibition, calling it an "experiment noble in purpose". His use of "experiment" suggested it was not permanent. While Smith won extra support among Catholics in the big cities Smith was the target of intense anti-Catholicism from some Protestant communities, especially as Southern Baptists and German Lutherans. Overall the religious factor worked to the advantage of Hoover, although he took no part in it.
Historians agree that Hoover's national reputation and the booming economy, combined with deep splits in the Democratic Party over religion and prohibition, guaranteed his landslide victory with 58% of the vote. Hoover's appeal to southern white voters succeeded in cracking the "Solid South", winning the Democratic strongholds of Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Tennessee; the Deep South continued to support Smith as the Democratic candidate. This was the first time that a Republican candidate for president had carried Texas. This outraged the black leadership, which largely broke from the Republican Party, and began seeking candidates who supported civil rights within the Democratic Party.
Hoover held a press conference on his first day in office, promising a "new phase of press relations". He asked the group of journalists to elect a committee to recommend improvements to the White House press conference. Hoover declined to use a spokesman, instead asking reporters to directly quote him and giving them handouts with his statements ahead of time. In his first 120 days in office, he held more regular and frequent press conferences than any other President, before or since. However, he changed his press policies after the 1929 stock market crash, screening reporters and greatly reducing his availability.
Unlike many previous first ladies, when Hoover's wife, Lou Henry Hoover, came to the White House, she had already carved out her own reputation, having graduated from Stanford as the only woman in her class with a degree in geology. Although she never practiced her profession formally, she typified the new woman of the post–World War I era: intelligent, robust, and aware of multiple female possibilities.
Hoover invented his own sport to keep fit while in the White House, a combination of volleyball and tennis, which he played every morning.
Hoover entered office with a plan to reform the nation's regulatory system, believing that a federal bureaucracy should have limited regulation over a country's economic system. A self-described progressive and reformer, Hoover saw the presidency as a vehicle for improving the conditions of all Americans by encouraging public-private cooperation - what he termed "volunteerism". Hoover saw volunteerism as preferable to governmental coercion or intervention which he saw as opposed to the American ideals of individualism and self-reliance. Long before he had entered politics, he had denounced laissez-faire thinking.
Hoover seldom mentioned civil rights while he was President. He believed that African-Americans and other races could improve themselves with education and wanted the races assimilated into white culture. Hoover attempted to appoint John J. Parker of North Carolina to the Supreme Court in 1930 to replace Edward Sanford. The NAACP claimed that Parker had made many court decisions against African-Americans, and they fought the nomination. The NAACP was successful in gaining Senator Borah's support and the nomination was defeated by one vote in the Senate.
Hoover had long been a proponent of the concept that public-private cooperation was the way to achieve high long-term growth. Hoover feared that too much government intervention would undermine long-term individuality and self-reliance, which he considered essential to the nation's future. Both his ideals and the economy were put to the test with the onset of the Great Depression.
Although Democrats at the time and for decades afterwards denounced Hoover for taking a hands-off ("laissez-faire") approach to the Depression, historians emphasize how active he actually was. Hoover said he rejected Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon's suggested "leave-it-alone" approach, and called many business leaders to Washington to urge them not to lay off workers or cut wages.
In 1931, Hoover issued the Hoover Moratorium, calling for a one-year halt in reparation payments by Germany to France and in the payment of Allied war debts to the United States. The plan was met with much opposition, especially from France, who saw significant losses to Germany during World War I. The Moratorium did little to ease economic declines. As the moratorium neared its expiration the following year, an attempt to find a permanent solution was made at the Lausanne Conference of 1932. A working compromise was never established, and by the start of World War II, reparations payments had stopped completely. Hoover in 1931 urged the major banks in the country to form a consortium known as the National Credit Corporation (NCC).
In the U.S. by 1932 unemployment had reached 24.9%, businesses defaulted on record numbers of loans, and more than 5,000 banks had failed. Hundreds of thousands of Americans found themselves homeless and began congregating in the numerous Hoovervilles (shanty towns) that sprang up in major cities.
Congress, desperate to increase federal revenue, enacted the Revenue Act of 1932, which was the largest peacetime tax increase in history. The Act increased taxes across the board, so that top earners were taxed at 63% on their net income. The 1932 Act also increased the tax on the net income of corporations from 12% to 13.75%.
The final attempt of the Hoover Administration to rescue the economy occurred in 1932 with the passage of the Emergency Relief and Construction Act, which authorized funds for public works programs and the creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). The RFC's initial goal was to provide government-secured loans to financial institutions, railroads and farmers. The RFC had minimal impact at the time, but was adopted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and greatly expanded as part of his New Deal.
To pay for these and other government programs and to make up for revenue lost due to the Depression, in addition to the Revenue Act of 1932 Hoover agreed to roll back several tax cuts that his Administration had enacted on upper incomes. The estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15%. Also, a "check tax" was included that placed a 2-cent tax (over 30 cents in today's economy) on all bank checks. Economists William D. Lastrapes and George Selgin, conclude that the check tax was "an important contributing factor to that period's severe monetary contraction". Hoover also encouraged Congress to investigate the New York Stock Exchange, and this pressure resulted in various reforms.
Although Hoover had come to detest the presidency, he agreed to run again in 1932, not only as a matter of pride, but also because he feared that no other likely Republican candidate would deal with the depression without resorting to what Hoover considered dangerously radical measures.
Hoover was nominated by the Republicans for a second term. He had originally planned to make only one or two major speeches, and to leave the rest of the campaigning to proxies, but when polls showed the entire Republican ticket facing a resounding defeat at the polls, Hoover agreed to an expanded schedule of public addresses. In his nine major radio addresses Hoover primarily defended his administration and his philosophy. The apologetic approach did not allow Hoover to refute Democratic nominee Franklin Roosevelt's charge that he was personally responsible for the depression.
In his campaign trips around the country, Hoover was faced with perhaps the most hostile crowds of any sitting president. Besides having his train and motorcades pelted with eggs and rotten fruit, he was often heckled while speaking, and on several occasions, the Secret Service halted attempts to kill Hoover by disgruntled citizens, including capturing one man nearing Hoover carrying sticks of dynamite, and another already having removed several spikes from the rails in front of the President's train.
Despite the late campaign endeavors, Hoover sustained a large defeat in the election, having procured only 39.7 percent of the popular vote to Roosevelt's 57.4 percent. Hoover's popular vote was reduced by 26 percentage points from his result in the 1928 election. In the electoral college he carried only Pennsylvania, Delaware, and four other Northeastern states to lose 59 - 472. The Democrats extended their control over the U.S. House and gained control of the U.S. Senate.
After the election, Hoover requested that Roosevelt retain the Gold standard as the basis of the US currency, and in effect, continue many of the Hoover Administration's economic policies. Roosevelt refused.
Hoover departed from Washington in March 1933 with some bitterness, disappointed both that he had been repudiated by the voters and unappreciated for his best efforts. The Hoovers went first to New York City, where they stayed for a while in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Later that spring, they returned to California to their Palo Alto residence. Hoover enjoyed returning to the men's clubs that he had long been involved with, including the Bohemian Club, the Pacific-Union Club, and the University Club in San Francisco.
Although many of his friends and supporters called upon Hoover to speak out against FDR's New Deal and to assume his place as the voice of the "loyal opposition", he refused to do so for many years after leaving the White House, and he largely kept himself out of the public spotlight until late in 1934. However, that did not stop rumors springing up about him, often fanned by Democratic politicians who found the former President to be a convenient scapegoat.
The relationship between Hoover and Roosevelt was one of the most severely strained in Presidential history. Hoover had little good to say about his successor. FDR, in turn, supposedly engaged in various petty official acts aimed at his predecessor, ranging from dropping him from the White House birthday greetings message list to having Hoover's name struck from the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, which would officially be known only as Boulder Dam for many years to come.
By 1940, Hoover was again being spoken of as the possible nominee of the party in the presidential election. Although he trailed in the polls behind Thomas Dewey, Arthur Vandenberg, and his own former protege, Robert A. Taft, he still had considerable first-ballot delegate strength, and it was believed that if the convention deadlocked between the leading candidates, the party might turn to him as its compromise. However, the convention nominated the utility company president Wendell Willkie, who had supported Roosevelt in 1932 but turned against him after the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority forced him to sell his company. Hoover dutifully supported Willkie, although he despaired that the nominee endorsed a platform that, to Hoover, was little more than the New Deal in all but name.
From Coolidge's death in 1933 to Dwight D. Eisenhower's last day of serving the presidency in 1961, Hoover had been the only living Republican former president. In 1960, Hoover appeared at his final Republican National Convention. Since the 1948 convention, he had been feted as the guest of "farewell" ceremonies (the unspoken assumption being that the aging former President might not survive until the next convention). Joking to the delegates, he said, "Apparently, my last three good-byes didn't take." Although he lived to see the 1964 convention, ill health prevented him from attending. The Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater acknowledged Hoover's absence in his acceptance speech. In 1962, Hoover had a malignant intestinal tumor removed. Ten months later he had severe gastrointestinal bleeding and seemed terminally ill and frail, but his mind was clear and he maintained a great deal of correspondence. Although the illness would get worse over time, he refused to be hospitalized.
Hoover died following massive internal bleeding at the age of 90 in his New York City suite at 11:35 a.m. on October 20, 1964, 31 years, seven months, and sixteen days after leaving office. At the time of his death, he had the longest retirement of any President. Former President Jimmy Carter surpassed the length of Hoover's retirement on September 7, 2012. At the time of his death he was the second longest-lived president after John Adams; both were since surpassed by Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. He had outlived by 20 years his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, who had died in 1944, and he was the last living member of the Coolidge administration. He also outlived both his successor Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt who died in 1945 and 1962, respectively. By the time of his death, he had rehabilitated his image. His birthplace in Iowa and an Oregon home where he lived as a child, became National Landmarks during his lifetime. His Rapidan fishing camp in Virginia, which he had donated to the government in 1933, is now a National Historic Landmark within the Shenandoah National Park. Hoover and his wife are buried at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Hoover was honored with a state funeral, the last of three in a span of 12 months, coming as it did just after the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and General Douglas MacArthur. Former Chaplain of the Senate Frederick Brown Harris officiated. All three had two things in common: the commanding general of the Military District of Washington during those funerals was Army Major General Philip C. Wehle and the riderless horse was Black Jack, who also served in that role during Lyndon B. Johnson's funeral.
Herbert Hoover began his magnum opus Freedom Betrayed in 1944 as part of a proposed autobiography. This turned into a significant work critiquing the foreign policy of the United States during the period from the 1930s to 1945. Essentially an attack on the statesmanship of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hoover completed this work in his 90th year but it was not published until the historian George H. Nash took on the task of editing it. Significant themes are his belief that the western democratic powers should have let Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia assail and weaken each other, and opposition to the British guarantee of Poland's independence.
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