Talk About A Bad Rap!

The first president that affected my life directly was Herbert Hoover. It didn’t matter that he left office fourteen years before I was born. Dad referred to him every time we asked for money. I’d only need two dollars to buy a football…..

“I don’t think so, son,” Dad wouldn’t even consider it, “you never know when those ‘Hoover Days’ might fall on us again.” It was the sentiment of many who had lived through the Great Depression. I spent my formative years kicking Mr. Hoover for his thoughtless leadership that kept my 1950’s “spending money” to the bare minimum.

Herbert Clark Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa, in 1874. His father died when he was six, his mother passed away when he was nine. He was sent to live with an aunt at the Osage Indian Reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. From there he was shuffled off to an uncle in Newberg, Oregon.

You know what I’m thinking here, how could a boy with such humble beginnings grow up to wish harm off on anybody…..much less create a worldwide depression all by himself.

By sheer determination Hoover managed to get enrolled into Stanford University. Working nights, weekends and summers to keep himself in school, he graduated in 1895 with a degree in geology.

After a rough start, he ended up in Western Australia, scouting gold fields for a prestigious mining company. He worked hard and he was good at what he did. He made his boss, and himself, lots of money. He went to China and did the same thing.

By 1914 Hoover was living in London and operating his own company with offices in several cities around the world. His net worth was in the four million dollar range. Not bad for an orphan from West Branch.

But here is where the story really begins.

World War I broke out. There were one hundred thousand Americans stranded in Europe. Hoover immediately organized an effort to get as many as he could safely home. He continually assisted and gave aid and relief to the ones that remained.

As Germany overran Belgium, they commandeered most everything and refused to feed or care for the conquered masses. Hoover pressed BOTH the English and German governments for permission to intervene. He raised money and food for the vanquished nation. He crossed the North Sea forty times and met with German officials to insure they did not confiscate food meant for the Belgium people.

His work did not go unnoticed. Hoover became Secretary of Commerce under both Presidents Harding and Coolidge. Among his many accomplishments was working tirelessly to bring relief to the hundreds of thousands displaced by the devastating Mississippi River floods of 1927.

Just doesn’t seem like a Great Depression type guy to me.

He was inaugurated as the 31st President of the United States on March 4, 1929. The stock market crashed in October, sending America spiraling into the economic recession that lasted until the beginning of World War II. President Hoover had been in charge for eight months! Regardless of what Dad (and most of the world) thought, Hoover didn’t have the means, opportunity or wherewithal to get us into something that large in such a short amount of time! He had the misfortune to jump on the horse just as it headed over the cliff.

He was the first president to not take a salary while in office. He didn’t need it. But that leads us to the most important thing you need to know about Herbert Hoover.

In January of 1953, President Harry S Truman left the office practically broke. Mr. Truman never had a lot of money and things became very difficult for him. There were no presidential pensions at the time. Our government corrected that with the Former Presidents Act of 1958.

The law, passed for Mr. Truman, provided a $25,000 per year pension for all living former presidents. At the time, that meant Truman and Hoover. Truman, it needs to be said, was a dyed in the wool Democrat. Hoover was a fully committed Republican.

To everyone’s surprise, Hoover accepted the pension. Still a multi-millionaire, he clearly did not need the money. But he thought to do otherwise might embarrass Mr. Truman.

Oh, if we only had an ounce of that civility in our politics today…..



PS: Herbert Clark Hoover is buried on a hill overlooking the small house he was born in back in West Branch. That speaks volumes about the man.