Every Iowan ought to go to the Herbert Hoover Historical Site and Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, and learn about the 31st president of the U.S.
The Great Depression occurred on Hoover’s watch as president, and he often is blamed for it. But that’s largely a bum rap. In fact, he was warning of excesses in the economy five years before the stock market crash, when he was U.S. Secretary of Commerce in the Calvin Coolidge administration.
The Historical Site includes Hoover’s birthplace, a humble fourteen-by-twenty foot cottage where the family lived for several years.
He would later say, “This cottage where I was born is physical proof of the unbounded opportunity of American life.”
The site also includes a replica of the shop where his father was a blacksmith, and the actual Friends meetinghouse where Hoover learned Quaker principles of honesty, hard work, simplicity, and generosity.
Hoover’s father died when Herbert (they called him “Bert”) was six, and his mother died when he was ten. Eventually, he was sent to live with an uncle in Oregon.
The presidential library and museum picks up from there—with a number of life-size dioramas and exhibits covering Hoover’s impressive career.
Hoover earned a degree in geology from Stanford University, and that’s where he met his wife, Lou, also a geology major, who was born in Waterloo, Iowa. Together they traveled the world, as Hoover worked as a consultant in the mining business.
In the early 1900s, Hoover had gained the reputation as the “doctor of sick mines.” By the age of 28, he was making $33,000 annually and was reportedly the highest salaried man of his age in the world.
A millionaire by the time he was 40, and also having been raised in the Quaker tradition, Hoover retired from mining and embarked on public service for the rest of his life. And therein lies his lasting greatness.
Europeans were starving as a result of the ravages of WWI. It was so bad that sawdust was mixed with flour to stretch scarce supplies, trees were stripped of bark, and even dogs and cats were eaten.
Hoover orchestrated the massive U.S. relief effort and, thanks to his administrative skills, is credited with feeding 350 million people in 21 countries.
Here are a couple of interesting facts about Hoover as president:
- He canceled the traditional inaugural ball, thinking people expected him to get right to work early the next morning.
- Hoover was one of two presidents to give his entire presidential salary to charity. The other was John Kennedy.
With the accomplishments of Herbert Hoover still playing in our minds, we drove home feeling mighty proud to be Iowans.
This content previously appeared in the popular “Road Trip” series in Our Iowa Magazine. Learn more about the publication at www.OurIowaMagazine.com.