The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum and Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa opened a new exhibit May 1st. The Making of the Great Humanitarian: Herbert Hoover and WWI tells the story of how Hoover set aside a lucrative mining career and began a life of public service – saving 10 million people from starvation during the Great War.
When war was declared on July 28, 1914, thousands of Americans in Europe fled to the safety of London. They faced hardship only days later when Great Britain entered the war. Banks were closed and businesses wouldn’t accept U.S. dollars. Ocean liners were commandeered by the British government, making passenger space scarce. Many travelers had lost their luggage and money. There were no ATMs or instant wire transfers from America at the time.
On August 3, Hoover, during a stay at the Savoy Hotel, London, received an urgent request for help from U.S. Ambassador to Britain, Walter Hines Page. Within twenty-four hours, five hundred volunteers were assembled and the grand ballroom of the Savoy Hotel was turned into a vast canteen and distribution center for food, clothing, steamer tickets and cash. "I did not realize it at the moment, but on August 3, 1914 my engineering career was over forever. I was on the slippery road of public life," Hoover said.
The US Congress had pledged $2.5 million in aid to the stranded Americans, and shipped $1.5 million in gold bars to England aboard the USS Tennessee to get things rolling. The funds provided immediate assistance to all in need. Loans to stranded Americans were made on a handshake. It’s said that all but about $400 was returned.
Hoover also recruited the aid of London’s largest department store owner, Henry Gordon Selfridge, of Selfridge’s Department Store, to publish a free newspaper with information on lodging, passports and available passenger ship space.
It was clear that Hoover’s organizational skills, developed during his engineering studies and mining career, would play a major role in the life ahead of him. But we’ll cover that in greater detail next time.
To get the whole story of how Hoover helped rescue 120,000 stranded Americans and then began to feed millions in Belgium and Northern France, visit the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum in West Branch, at exit 254 on Interstate 80, just 10 miles east of Iowa City. The exhibit is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and runs through Oct. 25. Learn more about it.
Also in the exhibit:
- Belgian Village and 1/8 scale relief ship replica
- World War I battle trench
- 3-D immersive film, ‘The Making of the Great Humanitarian’