“Miss Lou Henry entered Stanford and the geology laboratories,” Herbert Hoover said of a woman he assisted as an upperclassman. “This call to duty was stimulated by her whimsical mind, her blue eyes, and a broad grinnish smile.” They married five years afterward.1
Herbert Clark Hoover was born on August 10, 1874. The second of three children, he was orphaned when both of his parents died before his ninth birthday, after which he moved to live with an aunt and uncle in Oregon. As a teenager, Hoover developed an interest in mathematics that in 1891 helped him become one of the students admitted to the first freshman class at Stanford University.2
President Warren Harding appointed Hoover as Secretary of Commerce, a position he kept when Calvin Coolidge succeeded Harding in office. He served as a close economic adviser to both presidents while keeping himself free from the scandals of their administrations.3
On March 4, 1929, Hoover became the thirty first President of the United States, seven months before the Black Thursday stock market crash that plunged the United States into its second Great Depression. His signing of the Smoot-Hawley legislation that raised tariff rates to protect domestic business interests in 1930 was a primary reason used by political opponents to make him appear responsible for the depression, in spite of his many warnings about a looming financial crisis.4
“The primary cause of the Great Depression was the war of 1914-1918,” said Hoover, describing a displacement similar to the financial crises of 1720, 1772, 1825, and 1873 that came approximately seven to ten years after respective wars ended.
Explaining his “warnings against speculation and credit inflation,” what later economists later identified as the second stage of a financial crisis, Hoover said, “During 1925, I began to be alarmed over the growing tide of speculation and gave warnings as to the dangers of this mood.” He added, “Behind these alarms was my knowledge that the Federal Reserve Board had deliberately created credit inflation.” Financial distress occurred with a speculative peak in September 1929. “The stock-market slump on October 29, 1929, came seven months after I entered the White House.” 5
Hoover worked tirelessly to sustain the nation’s morale while he was in office during America’s second Great Depression. In 1974, an assistant to President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We didn’t admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.” 6
1. Herbert Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, 3 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1951), 1:23.
2. Ibid., 1:10-15. Daniel C. Diller, “Biographies of the Presidents,” in Guide to the Presidency, Second Edition, 2 vols., ed. Michael Nelson (Washington: CQ Press, 1996), 2:1508.
4. Ibid. Charles P. Kindleberger, Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, Revised Edition (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 37.
5. Hoover, The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, 3:2-20. Kindleberger, Manias, Panics, and Crashes, 17-23, 46, 77, 256, 267n.
6. Joan Hoff, “Herbert Hoover,” in The Reader’s Companion to American History, eds. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), 514.