When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, president Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover to run the U.S. Food Administration. Again, Hoover refused to take a salary—he wanted to be a volunteer among volunteers. He didn’t want to ration food, so instead, he encouraged people to raise food in their neighborhoods. He introduced Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday, to reduce the amount of food consumed locally, so more could be sent to our soldiers and those of our Allies. His motto, “Food will win the war,” got everyone on board with the plans. Cookbooks were created, and corn became a key part of making those Wheatless Wednesdays as tasty as they were. Within a year of starting the program, Hoover had doubled the amount of food being shipped to Europe—but without rationing and without any heavy bureaucracy.
When the war ended, Hoover was placed in charge of the American Relief Administration. He organized shipments of food to the starving millions in Central Europe. He was Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge. It was during Coolidge’s presidency that Hoover spearheaded efforts that led to the construction of the Hoover Dam and the St. Lawrence Seaway. He became one of the most admired men Washington. Then, in 1927, his fame reached new heights because of his extraordinary service assisting the victims of the Mississippi River Flood. So when Coolidge declined to run again for office, Hoover was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate (though he considered himself a Progressive, in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt). He won by a landslide.
Columnist Walter Lippmann wrote that he thought Hoover, given the chance, could “purify capitalism of its …commercialism, its waste, and its squalor.”
Hoover devoted the first eight months of his presidency to a variety of social, economic, and environmental reforms. But then the market crashed, and everything came apart. Hoover wanted to keep the Federal budget balanced. He planned to cut taxes and expand public works spending. He presented Congress with a program asking for creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to aid business, additional help for farmers facing mortgage foreclosures, banking reform, a loan to states for feeding the unemployed, expansion of public works, and steps for making the government more frugal. His enemies saw this as the opportunity to ruin him. They voted against many of his plans (though many were later adopted by FDR). They pointed to him whenever things went wrong. He was blamed for clearing out protestors in Washington, but the clearing was actually done against Hoover’s orders. It seems to me that he was perhaps too virtuous and too idealistic. He expected Congress to help, not play politics. Oops.
Will Rogers wrote later to Hoover, “We all know that you was handed a balloon that was blowed up to its utmost. You held it as carefully as anyone could, but the thing busted right in your hands. Well, there just ain’t much you can do in a case like that.”
Hoover did not win re-election. However, he went on to be a major influence, serving with or assisting pretty much every President who followed him. FDR adopted many of Hoover’s ideas. Six weeks after Roosevelt’s death, Hoover met with President Harry Truman, and the two men planned for the recovery of a Europe ravaged by World War II. Truman asked Hoover for help in streamlining the post-war government. When Eisenhower was elected, he asked for Hoover’s guidance. But Hoover didn’t let politics get in the way of his social and humanitarian goals. He established a research center at Stanford and championed Boys Clubs of America, among other social causes. He was tireless in doing good. Simply a remarkable man.
I left the museum and wandered through the collection of buildings behind it. This is where it all started. The charming but tiny two-room cabin in which Hoover was born, and in which he lived until, as an orphan, he headed west, is available for a visit. Such humble beginnings for such an astonishing man. Nearby one can also find the schoolhouse where he learned to read and write, as well as his father’s blacksmith shop. I enjoyed this view into Hoover’s childhood.
Should you be passing through Iowa and wish to see this delightful museum, here is their website: http://hoover.archives.gov/
The chiming of the carillon let me know it was time for the museum to close, and time for me to get back on the road. I stopped briefly at Hoover’s grave, and then headed back toward the highway.
In Illinois again, I passed a sign that identified the birthplace of Ronald Reagan, but it was too late to stop. I finally got home again at 9 pm. Great trip, but always good to return home.