Herbert Hoover: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the life of Herbert Hoover, who was President of the United States when the Great Depression began. We will highlight key themes and developments surrounding his life, and we will understand his viewpoints by looking at some of his quotes.

Herbert Hoover: The Man Responsible for the Great Depression?

Imagine you are living during the Great Depression. It is an incredibly dark time in America as nearly one out of four men are unemployed. Poverty is everywhere. Imagine one day you stumbled upon a makeshift community of tents and shacks on the outskirts of your town. Everyone looks frail and sad. The entrance to the community bears a sign that says ''Welcome to Hooverville.'' You ask someone about the name of the community, and they tell you in an angry tone and with vulgar language that the community is named after President Herbert Hoover, the man they blame for the Great Depression.

The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in American history. It began in 1929 and lasted until American involvement in World War II in 1941. Hoovervilles were real, and during the 1930s many Americans really did blame President Hoover for the outbreak of the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover enjoyed widespread popularity prior to the Stock Market Crash of 1929, but once the Great Depression hit, he received most of the blame. After all, he was the man in charge of the country, right?

Hoovervilles, such as this one, were common throughout the U.S. during the Great Depression.

Recent scholarship is providing a more objective and accurate view of Herbert Hoover. While there continues to be intense debate among historians about whose ''fault'' the Great Depression was, the complexities of the Depression are coming to light. While Herbert Hoover's legacy is forever linked with the Great Depression, it is probably a bit simplistic to say the world-wide depression was entirely his fault. In this lesson, we will be exploring the life of Herbert Hoover. Let's dig in!

Early Life and Career

Herbert Hoover was born in Iowa in 1874. His parents were Quakers, a tradition Hoover kept throughout the rest of his life. Hoover studied geology at Stanford University and graduated in 1895. After college, he became involved in gold mining. He worked briefly in California before joining the Bewick, Moreing & Co. in Australia. As a geologist and mining engineer, Hoover was given much influence over daily mining operations. In this position, he learned how to deal with people, politics, and dangerous situations.

This photograph shows a young Herbert Hoover, when he worked as a mining engineer.

Hoover went on to be involved in the administration of Bewick, Moreing & Co., and afterward, he became an independent mining consultant. By the time World War I broke out in 1914, he was an internationally known investor and consultant, not to mention a multi-millionaire.

Humanitarian Work and Involvement in Politics

During World War I, Hoover was involved in various humanitarian efforts, including heading an organization called the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). In this position, Hoover oversaw a vast network of relief programs aimed at helping Belgian civilians. Reflecting on his experience during World War I, Hoover later commented: ''I did not realize it at the moment, but on August 3, 1914, my career was over forever. I was on the slippery road of public life.'' Indeed, Hoover's humanitarian work during this time would eventually lead him into politics.

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover head of the U.S. Food Administration. In 1921, Hoover was appointed Secretary of Commerce by President Warren G. Harding. Hoover's big moment came in 1927 when he was tasked with overseeing relief of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Hoover's response to the deadly flood was considered brilliant. His leadership in this crisis caused his popularity to skyrocket.

Presidency and Afterwards

When President Calvin Coolidge decided not to seek reelection, Herbert Hoover emerged as a top Republican presidential candidate in the Election of 1928. Hoover won in a landslide against Democratic candidate Al Smith. Whereas his predecessor had made important strides toward racial progress, Hoover paid little attention to civil rights issues. Generally speaking, Hoover took a pro-business approach. Like Coolidge before him, Hoover believed business should be free from government regulation. Coolidge had been a relatively popular president, and Hoover hoped to continue the policies of his predecessor. At his inauguration, Hoover expressed this by stating: ''Given the chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, we shall soon with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.'' He had no idea what was coming.

Herbert Hoover intended to continue in the polices of his predecessor, Calvin Coolidge.
hoover speaking

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