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.