Herbert Hoover

By Tom Longden,
Famous Iowans series, April 20, 2008
Des Moines Register

Before he was president, Herbert Clark Hoover was an extraordinary humanitarian with an international reputation. Before that he was an engineer who built a fortune. Before that he was a simple Iowa farm boy.

Hoover, the son of a Quaker blacksmith named Jesse and his wife, Hulda, was born at West Branch and orphaned at age 10. He was raised by uncles, first in Iowa and then in Oregon.

He worked his way through Stanford University, earning a degree in engineering, and by 23 was managing mines in Australia. Then, with his bride Lou, whom he had met at Stanford, he went to work for the Chinese Imperial Bureau of Mines. The Hoovers’ two sons became accustomed to traveling the globe.

By 1914, Hoover had a chain of offices all over the world and a $5 million fortune amassed by financing mining operations. He turned to public service, organizing an effort to feed starving masses in war-torn Belgium, at great risk to his own life.

Called “The Great Engineer,” Hoover saw his prestige grow as he became secretary of commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge. In 1928, he was elected the 31st president, carrying all but eight states­ a huge Republican victory.

Hoover took the oath of office in March 1929, when the nation was prospering, but the stock market crashed the following October, and he was blamed as the economy plummeted and unemployment soared. It was a national crisis with no precedent, and Hoover was vilified.

Defeated in the next election by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hoover retired quietly to his home in Palo Alto to write. He regained stature as the years went by and he became the nation’s respected elder statesman, counseling leaders of both political parties. Hoover, who was the first president born west of the Mississippi River, and his first lady are buried at West Branch.

Lou Henry Hoover

By Tom Longden,
Famous Iowans series, April 20, 2008
Des Moines Register

The phrase "world traveler" doesn’t do justice to Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of Herbert Hoover and the first lady from 1929 to 1933. She could live anywhere and adapt to any situation.

Hoover was the daughter of a Waterloo banker. The family moved to California when she was 10 because of her mother’s poor health. Her father and tomboy Lou enjoyed camping, fishing and hiking. She loved to be on a bicycle or a horse.

She met her future husband during a geology lab at Stanford University. The day after their wedding in 1899, the couple set sail for Tientsin, China, where the future president would work as a mining engineer. Caught in the Boxer Rebellion, the bride was unflappable. She strapped on a revolver for self-defense, ignored flying bullets and carried on.

Later she worked alongside her husband in Australia, Russia, Mandalay, England and France. Hoover became the mother of Herbert Jr. and Allan. By the time the latter was 3, he had traveled around the world three times.

At the White House, Hoover was the perfect hostess. Long before Jackie Kennedy thought of it, Hoover was cataloging White House antiques and restoring furniture. She paid for much of the work out of her own pocket. The Girl Scouts were her chief interest, and she served as their president.

Hoover, distinguished by her prematurely white hair, shunned cosmetics, jewelry and frilly clothes. She was a skilled linguist. She had returned from an afternoon concert when she died of a heart attack at the couple’s suite in New York’s Waldorf Towers.

For a full version of the Glen Jeansone's article entitled The Many Dimensions of Herbert Hoover, please click here.

More Information

For more biographical information about Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover, visit the following links: