Herbert Hoover & The Dust Bowl

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 President Herbert Hoover and the Dust Bowl. We will highlight the central themes and developments surrounding President Hoover, as well as the Dust Bowl, and we will learn about the connection between the two.

Who Was President Herbert Hoover?

When many people hear the name ''Hoover'', the first thing that comes to mind is the Hoover vacuum cleaner. But some of you may know a thing or two about another Hoover: President Herbert Hoover, who served between 1929-1933. Many historians regard Herbert Hoover has having gotten a bad rap. See, he was the president when the Great Depression broke out in the fall of 1929. Unemployed and destitute, the American people were hurting and angry, and they tended to blame the person in charge of their country: and that was Hoover.

Herbert Hoover was President of the United States when the Great Depression broke out.

Before becoming president, Hoover was known for his humanitarian work. As the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, he played a critical role in organizing relief during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Prior to becoming president, this is what Hoover was best known for. He was actually a very popular man during this time. Hoover was viewed as someone who could be trusted to handle crises.

Herbert Hoover became the 31st President of the United States. He was a Republican who continued many of the policies of his predecessor, Calvin Coolidge. However, whereas Coolidge was staunchly opposed to government intervention in economics, Hoover was more willing to allow the government to play an active role. As president, Hoover granted government subsidies to companies and approved public works programs. Popular when he took office, the outbreak of the Great Depression would forever tarnish the legacy of President Herbert Hoover.

The Stock Market Collapse, the Great Depression, and Hoovervilles

When the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, a day that has come to be known as ''Black Tuesday'', many Americans lost their life fortunes. Risky stocking buying practices finally caused the market to collapse. This event ushered in what we call the Great Depression, the longest and most severe economic decline in American history. The Great Depression lasted throughout the entire decade of the 1930s. At its peak, unemployment hit a staggering 25%.

President Hoover actually enrolled the help of the federal government to relieve the situation. Contrary to popular belief, he believed government intervention would help curb the effects of the Great Depression. However, in the minds of many Americans he did not go far enough, and he was accused of having a ''do-nothing'' response. Americans were angry and he bore the brunt of their anger.

As homelessness became common, homeless people banded together and set up make-shift camps composed of tents, shacks, and the like. There communities of displaced and homeless individuals became known as ''Hoovervilles'', after the one they blamed for their predicament: President Hoover. His name was used in other ways too. A ''Hoover blanket'' was a newspaper used as a blanket; a ''Hoover wagon'' was an automobile pulled by horses or mules; ''Hoover leather'' was cardboard used to line the sole of a shoe.

A typical Hooverville is seen in this photograph.

The Dust Bowl

As if things weren't bad enough, destructive dust storms ravaged the Midwest. The Dust Bowl refers to the series of severe dust storms that swept across the Great Plains region throughout the second half of the 1930s. These storms killed livestock and crops, swept dust into homes, prevented automobiles from running, and blackened out the sun for says at a time. The Dust Bowl was centered in states like Texas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska, although its affects were felt throughout the entire Midwest. During the Dust Bowl years, many people developed a lung condition called dust pneumonia, resulting from the inhalation of too much dust. Young children were especially susceptible to this condition, and it was potentially deadly.

The Dust Bowl ravaged the Midwest during the second half of the 1930s.
dust bowl

The Dust Bowl had many causes, but many historians and scientists now believe much of it was made-made. Improper farming techniques played a significant role. Too much grassland was converted into farmland too soon. Deep, mechanized plowing created vast tracts of loose soil. When drought came, the soil literally turned to dust and blew away.

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