Herbert Hoover, perhaps best known as having presided over the Great Depression, lived a very interesting, exciting and undeniably impressive life before the Presidency.
Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was born in Iowa to a family of Quakers (thus making him the first President to have been born west of the Mississippi). He was orphaned at the age of 10, however, and was sent to and fro between relatives, before finally settling in with his uncle, John Minthorn, in Oregon.
Hoover did not do very well at school as a young man, and did not attend high school at all, though he worked hard to educate himself despite his initial difficulties, learning reading, writing, mathematics and bookkeeping at night school.
When Hoover was seventeen, he decided that his lack of formal education would not stop him from pursuing his academic advancement, and applied to the brand new Leland Stanford Junior University (soon to be referred to simply as Stanford University) outside of San Francisco. Hoover was, in fact, the very first student to ever stay in a dorm at Stanford during the very first year of its operation, and he remained associated with the school for much of his life.
While at Stanford, Hoover majored in geology, earning his degree in the subject in 1895, and set out on a career path as a mining engineer.
Career and World Travels
Despite a slow start to his mining career, Hoover soon found his niche by traveling to mines as an evaluator and inspector. This position sent him to Australia in 1897 to inspect mines in New South Wales, and then to China in 1899.
While in China, one of the great stories of Hoover’s early life saw he and his wife (an intelligent, educated woman also interest in geology named Lou) aiding the town of Tianjin during the Boxer Rebellion. Hoover aided the men in fighting and building barricades while Lou worked as a medic. It was one of the first of a great many humanitarian efforts Hoover would engage himself in throughout his career.
After leaving China, Herbert and Lou moved back to New South Wales to work with the mines there. In 1908, having found great success in his many mining endeavors, Hoover opened up his own consulting business, which took he and Lou all over the world, making him financially successful (which was aided by the royalties from a very famous mining book and some silver mines he owned).
During World War I, Hoover found himself in Europe helping to aid the thousands of trapped American citizens flee the war and return home. He worked directly with European nations in this effort, as well as further attempts to raise aid money to help nations such as Belgium, which were being devastated by the war (and much of this without any government assistance).
In 1917, President Wilson, realizing Hoover’s growing fame and heroism in the view of the American people who admired his efforts in Europe, asked him to run the nation’s food administration. In this capacity, Hoover proved to be a particularly capable administrator, encouraging programs to conserve food, believing as he did that “food will win the war.”
Even after the end of the war, Hoover’s efforts as head of the American Relief Association led him to continue working with the hungry people in Europe who continued to lack adequate food supplies, and his selfless humanitarian efforts continued to aid his growth in popularity.
Entry into Politics
With his personal involvement in World War I, Hoover’s private career effectively ended, moving him swiftly into a career in the public spotlight, making a foray into politics an obvious next step.
Politically, Hoover had traditionally aligned himself with the Republican Party – particularly the Progressive wing of the party (he had even been one of many Republicans to split from the party in 1912 in order to support Theodore Roosevelt’s “Bull-Moose” candidacy). Prior to the 1920 election, however, Hoover had been looked upon with favor by Democrats such as Woodrow Wilson and the young Franklin D. Roosevelt as a possible candidate for the Democrats to run against Warren G. Harding.
Despite considering the offer to run for President, Hoover declined, and despite a personal distaste for the candidate, proceeded to campaign for Warren G. Harding, keeping his political allegiences with the Republicans.
Thanks to his support and great popularity, when Harding was elected handily, he offered Hoover the position of Secretary of Commerce, which was readily accepted.
It was in this post that Hoover would achieve lasting fame, making dramatic advancements to move this “low level” cabinet position into one of the most important in the Federal Government.