Thanksgiving Proclamations and President Hoover

by Matthew Schaefer

In addition to the White House tradition of spending Thanksgiving as a quiet day with the family, Herbert Hoover tended to the ceremonial aspect of his official duty by issuing a Thanksgiving Proclamation.  This tradition dates back to George Washington, and most Presidents hew to a predictable script—invoking forefathers, thanking God, and sharing pride in America.

Herbert Hoover stuck to this script.  His 1929 Thanksgiving Proclamation reads in part: ‘God had greatly blessed us as a nation in the year drawing to a close.  The earth has yielded an abundant harvest in most parts of our country.  The fruits of industry have been of unexampled quantity and value.  Both capital and labor have enjoyed an exceptional prosperity.’

For Hoover, there is no mention of the Stock Market Crash, his recently convened Conference for Continued Industrial Progress, or the impact of a severe drought on several states.  This is not surprising given that Hoover was acutely aware of the power of his words from the bully pulpit of the Presidency; a discouraging word from him might do serious harm to economic recovery.  He knew that he was bound by the weight of his office to speak of blue skies and sunny prospects.

Hoover offered similar platitudes in ensuing Thanksgiving proclamations despite worsening conditions as America slid deeper into the abyss of the Great Depression.  Others, unburdened by office, respectfully requested that the usual Thanksgiving proclamation not be issued.  Woolsey Teller, of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, offered three reasons: Drought-‘’Parched fields are no call for thanks.’ Unemployment-‘Jobless workers are not at fault; to ask them in these hard times to be thankful is to add insult to injury.’ Separation of Church and State-citing Thomas Jefferson’s precedent in refusing to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Others called for doubling down on prayer and penitence.  Some importuned Hoover to make Thanksgiving a national day of humiliation, humbling man before a wrathful God.  In 1931, the Federation of Reformed Men’s Societies of the West asked that the customary proclamation be: ‘a call for acknowledgment of our national sins and to pray for the removal of the widespread economic depression in our country.’

Hoover heeded neither side, choosing his own path.  His Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1931 closely paralleled the 1929 and 1930 versions in style and substance, thanking the Almighty for abundant harvests, good health, and enriched lives.  In a nod to the gloomy economy, Hoover noted: ‘The measure of passing adversity which has come upon us should deepen the spiritual life of the people, quicken their sympathies and spirit of sacrifice for others, and strengthen their courage.’

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President Hoover and Football

by Matthew Schaefer

Stanford Football team, 1894, Herbert Hoover is in the coat and tie in the back row. He was the manager.

Stanford Football team, 1894, Herbert Hoover is in the coat and tie in the back row. He was the manager.

Somehow, I’ve written more than once about Herbert Hoover and football without consulting the two folders on ‘Football, 1929-1932’ in Hoover’s Presidential Subject Files.   This is written in order to rectify that oversight.  These files contain a letter dated December 5, 1931 from Mrs. Helen MacLean to President Hoover.  Mrs. MacLean explained in this lengthy letter that, as the mother of two boys intent on playing football, she felt compelled to write.  She beseeches Hoover: ‘Will you do what you can to bring the game to a sane and safer level?  For it seems to me that football has become more of a war than a game.’

MacLean invoked the actions of President Theodore Roosevelt, who found it necessary to intervene in 1905 to reduce the violence of football in order to forestall dangerous injuries and death.  MacLean credited Roosevelt’s efforts for making football temporarily safer, ‘but the evils abolished at that time have returned since, it seems, cruel in a more scientific and diabolical form.’  She closed: ‘Do not wait for a letter from another mother whose son has been sacrificed on the altar of this so-called sport.’

To add weight to her argument, Mrs. MacLean enclosed an editorial ‘Stop These Football Tragedies’ from the December 4, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  Looking at a collegiate football season marred by scores of serious injuries and a handful of deaths, the editorial called for rules modifications to make the game safer once again.  The author pointed to improved equipment, specifically harder helmets and shoulder pads, combined with the increased speed of the game as leading to calamitous injuries.  To further drive this point home, the editorial was illustrated by a political cartoon titled ‘All-Time All-American’ showing Death looming over a football field.

One of Hoover’s secretaries quickly replied to Helen MacLean: ‘Your letter has been received.  I shall bring it to the attention of the President.’  The letter did not appear to alter Hoover’s thinking on football.  Among the later correspondence in the folder are complimentary tickets offered to Hoover by Dartmouth College for games in the 1932 football season.  This included late October matchups against Ivy League powerhouses Harvard and Yale.  Hoover did not attend these games.  He was otherwise engaged with Presidential duties and his campaign.

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What Will Be Your Legacy?

This piece was written by George Schaefer, for use at a corporate retreat with the theme ‘Building a Legacy of Success.’  He used this story to convey what it takes to create and sustain a legacy.  It is used here with his permission.

President and Mrs. Hoover photographed in the rear of a train that they traveled in.

President and Mrs. Hoover photographed in the rear of a train that they traveled in.

This is a story about a man named Bert.  It is a story of how he achieved success in business, earned vast wealth, held positions of power and led extraordinary humanitarian efforts whose impact resulted in a legacy that is still felt today, decades after his death, all across the globe.  It is a story about seeing beyond barriers, identifying opportunities, taking risks, and creating substantive value where those who went before you saw only a wasteland.  Finally, it is a story about making sure that the legacy you leave is large—very large—lest it be forgotten.

Bert enjoyed an unremarkable childhood until he was orphaned at age nine, and was then forced to live among strangers 1,500 miles away.  When he turned 18, he received his share of his parents’ estate.  His inheritance, their legacy, was nowhere near enough to pay for the college of his choice, Stanford University.  Bert wasn’t discouraged.  He wasn’t afraid of work.

So Bert worked, at dozens of menial low-paying jobs, while he attended classes.  After graduating from Stanford with a degree in geology, his first job was as a pick and shovel miner paid the princely sum of $2 a day.  Bert was thrilled with opportunity to work in his chosen field, learning from ground up [or from beneath the ground up].

Bert’s first break came two years later when, at 23, he was recommended to interview in London for a position as ‘a mining engineer, at least 35 years old, with 10 years’ experience.’  Despite his lack of qualifications, Bert went to London (growing a beard en route to look older), interviewed well, and was hired to run a mine in Western Australia.  Life in the outback was miserable; he was surrounded by red dust, black flies and white heat.  Perth was the last outpost of civilization in Western Australia, and Bert was 200 miles from Perth.

In Australia, Bert was relentless in seeking new opportunities, traveling hundreds of miles across the desert to ever more remote locations, scouting for new mines.  During one such excursion, he found a gold mine for sale.  The owners had mined the gold nearest the surface and concluded that what remained would not be profitable.  Drawing on his Stanford training, Bert surveyed the site and came to a far different conclusion.  He surmised that there was still gold to be mined, but that it was deep underground.  To reach it, someone had to be willing to move tons of rock to get the gold.  He cabled London with his recommendation to purchase the ‘tapped out’ mine, staking his reputation on the assertion that the mine would fully return the investment within one year, then continue to produce gold. At that time, the life span of a gold mine was measured in weeks or months, not years.  Ignoring conventional wisdom, his company agreed to Bert’s recommendation and bought the mine.

The gold mine Bert discovered proved to be an enormous success.  It returned the company’s investment within 8 months, and the mine was productive, not for 70 weeks or 70 months, but for 70 years.  Not surprisingly, Bert’s company quickly escalated his duties, sending him to oversee mines in China, Burma, South Africa and Russia.  By the time he was 30, Bert was the highest paid employee in the world. By age 35, he was a partner of a company with 135,000 employees worldwide.  By 40, he was the richest self-made man of his time.

If the story were to end here, we might all agree that Bert had created a noteworthy legacy.  But Bert was just beginning.  At age 40, at the peak of his career, Bert chose to ‘retire’ from the game of making money and to devote his energies to public service.  By age 45, he was widely acclaimed as one of the most accomplished men in America.  When Harding became President, he offered Bert his choice of Cabinet posts.  Bert chose to serve as Secretary of Commerce.  Here he fundamentally re-invented a Federal government agency, transforming Commerce into an engine to create jobs, growth and prosperity.  While serving as Secretary, Bert also built a coalition to bring water, flood control and electricity to the American Southwest.  Without his administrative skills, Los Angeles might be a city of less than one million and Las Vegas would be little more than a wide spot on a desert road.

In his later life, Bert headed a panel to reorganize the executive branch of Federal government, working to reduce bureaucracy. He spearheaded fund-raising for the Boys’ Clubs of America in an effort to reduce juvenile delinquency.  He wrote more than forty books, scores of articles, and hundreds of speeches.  The list of legacy accomplishments is lengthy.  In short, Bert was a man who got things done. However, deep as we are into the sketch, we haven’t addressed the two things that most defined Bert’s public service legacy.  One was unsuccessful, and is remembered well.  The other was spectacularly successful, yet is largely forgotten.

Bert’s memorable unsuccessful public service was as the 31st President of the United States.  He had been in the White House for six months when the stock market crashed in October 1929.  The ensuing Great Depression has been permanently merged with Herbert Hoover’s legacy.  He is seen as one of the worst Presidents in history.  His Administration was said to be unsympathetic to the suffering of millions who lost their jobs, homes and farms, and who faced hunger and privation.  At what could have been the pinnacle of his public service career, Bert was vilified.  He became a pariah.  Even after he left office, members of his own party would meet with him, but refused to be photographed with him.  How could such a capable man come to be regarded as insensitive and cold-hearted?  It can only be ascribed to bad timing, especially when weighed against his other, largely forgotten, public service.

Bert was in London when World War I erupted in 1914.  It was here that he had a conversation that literally changed the rest of his life, and the lives of millions.  The American ambassador told Bert that a human tragedy of unprecedented magnitude was about to unfold in Belgium, where the opposing armies were entrenched in brutal warfare.  It was late fall.  The crops had either been burned or appropriated by the occupying armies.  There was no local economy.  7 million Belgians (and 3 million civilians in northern France) faced a winter of want, famine and starvation.  Bert listened carefully, and then said three words that spoke volumes about the man: ‘Can I help?’

Bert organized the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).  The CRB quickly became the largest food relief effort in history.  Hoover oversaw fund-raising, the logistics of buying food, arranging shipment, negotiating safe passage and distributing food to the 10 million.  He did this as a private citizen from a neutral nation.   When American entered the war in 1917, he returned stateside to lead the United States Food Administration (USFA).  Bert knew that food would win the war.  As head of the USFA, he doubled American export of food to Europe between 1917 and 1918.  This food proved pivotal to victory.  When the war ended, the humanitarian crisis did not, as tens of millions of Germans, East Europeans and Russians faced starvation.  Bert fed them as well, saying: ‘Hunger does not recognize politics.’  After the war, for the second time in his life, he led the largest food relief effort in history.

Incredibly, Bert was called upon to replicate his food relief efforts thirty years later, in the wake of World War II.  At age 70, he responded magnificently, once again organizing relief efforts and delivering food to hundreds of millions in Europe, Africa and Asia.  For the third time in his life, Bert was part of the largest food relief effort to that time.  These humanitarian efforts clearly Bert Hoover’s most enduring legacy, one that deserves to be remembered.

George Schaefer closed out his presentation by reiterating the lessons to be drawn from Herbert Hoover’s story:

  1. See the big picture and see beyond the barriers. Imagine how different Bert’s legacy would be had he not been willing to travel to London for an interview almost certain to end in failure.
  2. Trust your instincts and recognize the real treasure lies deep underground Image how different Bert’s legacy would be had he not accepted the risks in digging deeper in a ‘tapped out’ mine.
  3. Go with what works for you, but make sure it works. Imagine how different Bert’s legacy would be had he not managed to transfer his genius for logistics to the new challenge of food relief.
  4. Resolve to be a builder and expect the best. Imagine how different Bert’s legacy would be had he not fought to create the CRB, a piratical state for benevolence unlike anything previously conceived, let alone built.
  5. Make the most of your dash. Bert’s grave is marked by a simple slab, reading only: ‘Herbert Hoover, 1874-1964’ with the dash between his birth year and death year standing for all the deeds of his life.  As Bert said himself: ’There is nothing more to a man’s legacy than the accomplishments he leaves behind.’  What will be your legacy?
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Herbert Hoover on the Importance of Voting

by Matthew Schaefer

Herbert Hoover casting his ballot in Palo Alto, CA 11/8/1932

Herbert Hoover casting his ballot in Palo Alto, CA 11/8/1932

Sometimes history loops back on itself and offers timely advice for the present and for the future.  In a reply to a press inquiry, October 5, 1953, former President Herbert Hoover offered advice that needs no further comment:

‘The weakest link in the whole chain of protections to liberty is the vote.  Other protections can be provided by law and officials designated to look after them.  The first step in protection of representative government is the vote.  But the act is voluntary.  If people do not go to the polls, freedom will die at its roots.

It is always a mystery to me why at every election there must be urging by a thousand voices: ‘Go to the Polls.’  Either our people must be absent minded or not concerned with their own safety.  You may be sure that every fellow with an ‘ism’ or a wild ‘do-not-like’ will be there.  If you want to neutralize him, then go and vote.’

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Badges, “Buttons”, and Royal Visits

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Royal visits to the United States are always complicated affairs, especially when things do not go according to plans.  Such was the case in 1919 when the King and Queen of Belgium were invited by Congressional invitation, the first extended since Lafayette came in 1825 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution.  Trouble began when President Wilson became ill and had to cancel events with the King and Queen.  Their itinerary was adjusted to allow more time in California to visit with Herbert and Lou Hoover as well as visit other venues on the West Coast.  According to Hoover, he reached out to Harry Webb, an engineering colleague in Santa Barbara, the first stop for the royal party.  Webb inquired, “Will there be any buttons?”, a euphemism at that time for official or royal pins and badges.  Hoover assured him that someone in the royal party would have a sack full of appropriate “buttons” for city officials.

Visit of King Albert of Belgium, Queen Elizabeth and Crown Prince Leopold to San Francisco on ferry boat crossing the bay with Herbert Hoover and Gov. William D. Stephens. ca. 1919

Visit of King Albert of Belgium, Queen Elizabeth and Crown Prince Leopold to San Francisco on ferry boat crossing the bay with Herbert Hoover and Gov. William D. Stephens. ca. 1919

The royal entourage was met by a sheriff who Hoover described as “a Hollywood sheriff with a ten-gallon hat, high boots, and two revolvers.”  Not versed in proper protocol in addressing his guests as “Your Majesty”, the sheriff referred to him as “O King.”  When corrected by a member of the party, King Albert, amused by the honest mistake, insisted that the sheriff continue to address him as “O King” for the remainder of the visit.

Difficulty began when the royal party arrived in San Francisco.  Mayor James Rolph, facing a tough reelection, was concerned that consorting with royalty may not sit well with voters.  Hoover agreed to be the official host and make the appropriate arrangements.  All the mayor would have to do is make a short speech welcoming the royal couple to the city.  Hoover strategically blocked off a main street to build a big crowd for the King and Queen and had sufficient numbers of Army and Navy recruits and their bands to provide a grand parade.  The King proudly bestowed the Order of the Crown, second class, on Mayor Rolph.  According to Hoover, Rolph, worried that “this display of feudalism on his breast…would lose thousands of votes,” asked for Hoover’s advice.  Hoover suggested that Rolph simply accept the honor on behalf of the City of San Francisco since many cities in Europe during World War I received similar honors.  The mayor embraced the suggestion and when he rose to speak, “in most eloquent terms accepted it on behalf of the city of which he had the honor to be chief magistrate.”  A confused King Albert turned to Hoover and asked “What in @$%! is he talking about?”  A calm Hoover replied, “Pay no attention to the Mayor.  He has his troubles. I’ll explain later on.”

In spite of the complications all the “buttons” created during the visit, Hoover noted that it had a happy ending.  Mayor Rolph was reelected by a sizeable majority and later went on to be elected Governor of California.  When Rolph died in 1934, Hoover was asked to serve as pallbearer.  He could not help but notice that the corpse was sporting on his suit lapel the Belgian Order of the Crown.  The Governor was buried with his “button.”

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Four Score and Seven Years Ago

by Matthew Schaefer

This has to do with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

 

Four score and seven years ago [give or take a year], the America nation was rocked by a

Wall Street, NY NY near the time of the stock market crash. ca. 1929.

Wall Street, NY NY near the time of the stock market crash. ca. 1929.Stock Market CrashStoc

series of crashes in the stock market.  Black Thursday, October 24, 1929, saw the New York Stock Exchange lose 11% of its value in heavy trading.  After a quiescent Friday, the stock market resumed its slide on Monday, October 28, 1929, losing nearly 13%.  The next day was no better, as the market dropped 12% on Black Tuesday.  In less than one week, investors in the stock market lost more than 40%.

For historians and economists looking back, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, is seen as a pivotal point in American history.  While they cannot agree on the weight to assign to the Crash, all agree that it marked the beginning of the Great Depression.  The Great Depression saw unemployment in America rise to nearly 25%, with another 20% working less than full-time; hundreds of banks closed their doors; thousands of homes and farms fell into foreclosure; GDP fell precipitously.  Times got tough.

This was all clear in retrospect.  At the time, especially at the onset, it was not so clear.  Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon saw the crash as a needed correction, to remove speculative liquidity from the market.  President Hoover described it as a Wall Street problem, not a Main Street problem.  The Federal Reserve Board had mixed opinions on the importance of the crash.  While many were content to adopt a wait and see attitude, Hoover acted.

In the wake of the crash, Hoover convened the Conference for Continued Industrial Progress in November 1929, bringing together 400 leaders from business, government, labor and banking.  They agreed that the highest economic priority should be jobs.  Thus they focused on preserving full employment, maintaining wages, increasing public works projects, and creating a voluntary committee to provide relief to the temporarily unemployed.  Fixing Wall Street was nowhere to be seen.

Things appeared to turn around by spring 1930.  The stock market recouped nearly all of its losses from the previous October.  Employment was holding steady. Recovery was in the air, so Hoover proclaimed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on May 1, 1930: ‘We have passed the worst and with continued effort we shall rapidly recover.’  Later that month he told reporters asking about the Great Depression that they ‘were sixty days too late. The depression is over.’  Not quite.  Bank failures, drought, falling commodities prices, and restrictive tariffs sparked a spiraling world-wide depression that found new bottoms for nearly a decade.

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White House Staff Remember Lou

By Thomas F. Schwartz, Director

ou Henry Hoover sitting at the "Monroe Desk" -  that was reproduced for the White House collection. ca 1931

Lou Henry Hoover sitting at the “Monroe Desk” –
that was reproduced for the White House collection. ca 1931

A genre of writing concerns the memoirs of domestic White House staff.  Personal secretaries, head butlers, maids, and secret service who live round the clock with the President, First Lady, and First Family see and hear things that are typically not reported at the time but become known through “tell all” memoirs.  Many of these memoirs are often flawed with editors at publishing house exaggerating incidents to make the book more saleable.  But many of the individuals who served in the White House never seek financial rewards from the history they witnessed first-hand.  From 1969 through the early 1970s, a series of interviews largely conducted by former news reporter Raymond Henle, created an oral history record on Herbert Hoover.  Still in its infancy, the interviews that Henle captured do not reflect the professional standards observed by oral historians of today.  Henle often interjects himself, offering his own views and judgements rather than simply letting his subjects speak.  Once transcripts were made of the taped interviews, the cassette tapes were destroyed so future researchers could not check the accuracy of the transcript and hear the voices of the individuals being interviewed.  Regardless, the transcriptions, especially of White House staff, provide valuable information, especially about First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.

Alonzo Fields, who served as a butler for the Hoovers, recalled “You never had to go to Mrs. Hoover or the President and say, ‘Fields is sick, and his wife is in poor condition, and they’re in need.’  Somehow or another, they always seemed to know it.  And you would receive benefits without anyone pleading to them.”  Fields acknowledged that other First Ladies would provide assistance if they were asked for help.  “But not with the Hoovers,” because Lou, as Fields claimed, “seemed to know it beforehand.”  He offered the specific example of a young man who worked at the White House named Wilkinson.  “He had ulcers,” according to Fields, “and in those days I think the early thought was to treat them with cream and milk, and things like that.  He was a houseman, and I bet a dime on it that he only got about $43 every two weeks, about eighty some odd dollars a month.  And he had five in the family.  This going on a cream diet for him was completely out.  One morning the milkman made a delivery at his door, and he said that he didn’t order cream.  The milkman said ‘Well, I’m sorry, cream has been ordered for this residence.  The name is Wilkinson?’  He said, ‘Yes.’  ‘Well, this has been taken care of.  I know the order has been placed here for your benefit.’  Mrs. Hoover had ordered that cream delivered to his house every day.”

Phillips Brooks was a pantry man and then butler in the White House.  When he developed tuberculosis and had to take an extended leave of absence, Lou hired his wife Katurah to serve as her personal maid to provide the Brooks family with an uninterrupted income.  Lou encouraged Katurah to visit her husband at the tuberculosis sanitarium in Glendale, Maryland.  On one visit, Katurah noticed the bottom of her husband’s bed was covered in snow.  Hospital staff had left the screened window at the foot of his bed open during a snow fall.  Lou sensed Katurah was upset and inquired “’Katurah, you look all down in the dumps.’  I said, ‘Well, I am.  I went out to see Phil this afternoon and when I got to where he was, the bottom of his bed was full of snow.’  She jumped up and she went to the telephone and called this hospital and said she wanted him to have special service and to be put in a place where there would be no draft or anything, because she wanted him to get thoroughly well, and if they couldn’t do that she would see that someone was placed at the head of the hospital who would.  I never will forget that.  She was so interested in his welfare.”

Lou could understand Katurah’s plight as their oldest son, Herbert Jr., was also recovering from tuberculosis in Asheville, North Carolina.  As dutiful grandparents, Lou and President Hoover watched over their grandchildren, Peggy Ann, “Pete” and baby Joan while their son recuperated.  Just as the Hoovers loved their own family, White House staff were treated as family members.

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Are You Ready for Some Football?

by Matthew Schaefer

From the time he was a Stanford student, Hoover was a fan of football.  In his memoirs, Hoover plays up his role as the financial manager of the Stanford football team that won ‘The Big Game’ against Cal in ’94.   The Stanford eleven no doubt benefited by the coaching prowess of Walter Camp, one of the giants of collegiate football.  As President, Hoover invited that team to the White House for a reunion.

Stanford Football team, 1894, Herbert Hoover is in the coat and tie in the back row. He was the manager.

Stanford Football team, 1894, Herbert Hoover is in the coat and tie in the back row. He was the manager.

This proximity to football demi-gods, coupled with other life accomplishments, earned Hoover the annual gold medal award from the National Football Foundation and Hall Fame.  Hoover was the third man given this medal, following Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur.  This medal was presented at a December 6, 1960 dinner.

At age 86, Hoover might have been expected to send regrets and not to attend.  As the dinner was held at 420 Lexington Avenue, New York City–an address formerly shared by the American offices of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the American Relief Administration–Hoover attended.  He made the short cab ride from the Waldorf-Astoria and spoke to those gathered to honor him.

Hoover’s address opened: ‘I often have indicated my conviction for the high purpose and values of football and sports generally.  Sportsmanship is the greatest teacher of morals except for religion.  But I have doubted that this football award should be given to me—as I have never played football.’  Demurrals aside, Hoover then went on to reprise his memoir tales about managing the ’94 Stanford team.

He closed his remarks by returning to his premise that sports teach morals: ‘The value of this teaching is not limited to the members of contesting athletic teams.  It radiates to the huge crowds at college games; it radiates to the audience at all other games.  Those who attend know well the rules of sportsmanship for they quickly react adversely to any breach of the rules.  From true sportsmanship radiates moral inspiration to our whole nation.’

Somewhere in this story is a lesson for today.

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A Boy Named Herbert Hoover

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Herbert Hoover namesake, 1932.

Herbert Hoover namesake, 1932.

On March 30, 1932, a letter was sent to President Herbert Hoover from a young boy in Jackson, Tennessee along with a photograph.  Perhaps his first letter ever written to a President, the young man wrote:

Mr. Herbert Hoover

 

This letter is going to be different from any other I ever wrote because it has the same name at the end and beginning.

I have seen your picture in our history and the screen to.  I am going to send you one of mine.

I had my eleventh birthday Easter Sunday and I am in the lower fifth grade.

I have one brother who is twelve years old and one who is eight.

I was less than three years old when my father died and so I don’t remember him.

We are a busy family for we three boys go to school and my mother to work at the same time.

 

Yours truly,

 

Herbert Hoover

The letter must have resonated with the President.  Having lost his own father when he was six and a mother who was forced to find ways to supplement income for three children, President Hoover understood the emotion behind words penned by the eleven year old.  Instructing Lawrence Richey, his secretary, to respond to the young Hoover, the President sent a photograph of himself with King Tut, his beloved dog.

 

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Sometimes a Man Just Wants a Good Cigar

Matthew Schaefer

Sometimes, for an archivist, what you learn while looking up other things is more interesting than the original topic.  Recently a patron sought information on Herbert Hoover’s dealings with Cuba.  I found the ‘usual suspects’ for a food administrator, Commerce Secretary and President and his relations with our nearest non-contiguous neighbor.  But it was the wisp of smoke on the edge of my field of vision that eventually commanded my full attention.

Herbert Hoover’s ties with Cuba date from his time as head of US Food Administration when sugar became a vital commodity for the war effort.  Cuba, one of the largest producers of cane sugar in the world, was considered crucial by Hoover as he worked with USFA’s sugar committee.

During his Commerce years, sugar, US-Cuba trade, and tariffs were the main topics covered by the material here.  Pretty dry stuff even though it fills 8+ folders in the Commerce Papers.

Although Hoover was invited to tour Cuba as part of the Latin America Goodwill Trip after his election, he did not visit.

There is not much documentation on Cuba in Hoover’s Presidential papers.  There are four folders in the Foreign Relations series: two on Cuba itself, one each on our Ambassadors Guggenheim and Judah.

Reviewing these folders, it is clear that Cuba was a troubled nation during Hoover’s White House years.  The Cuban President, General Gerardo Machado, ignored his country’s constitution and extended his Presidential term in May 1929.  The material in the folders contain several reports on Machado’s dictatorship, the imposition of martial law, economic chaos, the closing of schools and universities, and the stifling of the press.

For his part, Hoover stood at arms’ length, not embroiling the United States in Cuban affairs.  Hoover had enough on his plate stateside.  Hoover issued two public statements on Cuba–one on May 20, 1931 and the other on May 20, 1932 [Cuban Independence Day].  In both statements Hoover offered the usual platitudes of ‘cordial sentiments of good will and best wishes for the continued prosperity of the Republic.’  These sentiments were expressed in telegrams sent to General Machado.

Former president Hoover attending a dinner in Prague, March 4, 1938.

Former president Hoover attending a dinner in Prague, March 4, 1938.

It appears that Hoover gave more time and attention to procuring a consistent supply of Cuban cigars for his personal use than to matters of state.  There are two folders in the Commerce papers which document Hoover’s efforts to keep supply lines open for Havana coronas and claros.  Hoover ordered them by the hundreds, paying close attention to the lightness of the wrapper and the mildness of the smoke.  The Ritz Carlton Cigar Company proved instrumental in supplying the Secretary of Commerce with these cigars.  In one exchange of letters in late March 1928, Ritz Carlton offers to hold 2000 cigars for Hoover.  Hoover demurs, asking that they hold only 1000.

This carried over into the Hoover Presidency.  He ordered cigars in lots of 500 to 1000 every month or two.  After losing the 1932 election, Hoover arranged to purchase 300 cigars each month to be delivered to his Palo Alto home beginning March 1933.  Amazingly, this habit seemed to have no long-term impact on Hoover’s health.  He lived to be ninety.

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