Comparing Candidates Careers, 1928



Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover waving his hat while on a western driving trip in Duluth MN, (1928)1928-61. 

There is a long tradition of proxies stumping for their candidate using whatever tools come to hand.  In 1928, Archie Rice, a Stanford classmate of Herbert Hoover, produced a small flyer advocating for Hoover based on summary biographies comparing candidates’ careers.  On the front cover, Rice identifies himself as an analyst of news and football [1928’s version of Nate Silver, without the crunchy data].

On the back cover, Rice comments on the character-forming influences on the two men running for President.  Surrounding Smith, Tammany and its record of 140 years of patronage and public favors [read corruption].  Surrounding Hoover, the Stanford spirit and its ‘appreciation of the blessings of this Government, a reverence for its institutions, and a love of God and humanity.’

Leaving as the credentials of Rice [and his obvious bias in favor of his Stanford chum], the flyer offers nearly eighty points of comparison between Hoover and Smith.  These include some basic biographical data: age, education, occupation at various stages of life, number of men managed, years of government service, managerial experience, and highest office held.  These criteria stand the test of time; they are arguably germane.

Other points of comparison are of more dubious importance: number of books written, number of gold medals won, honorary degrees earned, number of states lived in, religion, height and weight.  While some of these may be relevant to the character of the man, they seem distant from either Smith or Hoover’s qualifications to be President.

Some points of comparison are just mysterious: preferred style of hat, favorite recreation, has milked a cow, and wife’s special accomplishment.  One is left to ponder whether a man wearing a fedora is more qualified to be President than a man wearing a derby, to wonder whether weekends spent fishing carry more weight than weekends spent golfing, to consider just how often the President will be called on to milk a cow, and whether his wife’s singing voice should come into play in a voting booth.

Of course, this was 1928.  Things were quite different then.  Now we are all civilized men and women.  Voters in 2016 would not be swayed by such low-brow politicking.

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Telegram Scam

One of the annoyances of modern life is the variety and volume of shady emails that clog our computers. Phony pharmaceutical ads, Nigerian investment schemes, too-good-to-be-true offers for jobs or relationships, the list goes on. Modern technology makes it much easier for the perpetrators, but all of these scams were tried through other media long before the invention of the internet. Even President Hoover was a target for scammers. Here’s one example.

On Sunday, October 20, 1929, Mr. Hoover received the following urgent telegram:telegram

Nothing will more quickly panic a parent, even the President of the United States, than the possibility that his child may be in trouble. The telegram purports to be from the Hoover’s younger son, Allan, claiming that he is in police custody in South Bend, Indiana, and asking for money for transportation to Washington by way of Cleveland.

Allan, who was 22 at the time, was a student at Harvard Business School in Boston. Classes had recently started for the fall, and there was no reason to think that Allan might have been in South Bend. Mr. and Mrs. Hoover were preparing to leave later that day for a trip to Ohio and Michigan, and had actually talked to Allan on the telephone the previous day to invite him to come on the trip if he could spare the time. Due to his class schedule, Allan had declined the invitation.

But as the penciled note on the telegram indicates, Mr. Hoover personally telephoned Allan to make sure nothing was wrong. Once the telegram was confirmed as a hoax, he shared it with Mrs. Hoover and her secretary, Ruth Fesler, and apparently they all had a good laugh.

But I would guess that the telegraph operator in South Bend, who let the scammer talk him into sending it collect, didn’t think it was very funny.

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Microphone Malfunctions and Campaigns


Rep. Joseph Martin, Jr. of MA and Herbert Hoover address the Republican Convention, June 25, 1940.

In the wake of the recent Presidential debate, Republican candidate Donald Trump pointed to a malfunctioning microphone and spotty sound system as one of the reasons his voice was not heard.  This Hoover archivist was reminded of a previous episode of microphone malfeasance and its impact on a Presidential hopeful.

The year was 1940.  World War II had broken out in Europe, and America was just beginning to recover from the Great Depression.  Incumbent Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was lining up for an unprecedented campaign for a third term as President.  The Republican Party had no shortage of candidates eager to run against Roosevelt: Landon, Dewey, Taft, and Willkie.  Former President Herbert Hoover harbored hopes that the GOP might draft him for a run if the convention could not reach consensus.  Hoover was counting on his speech to the RNC to rally support to his candidacy.

Late in the evening of June 25, 1940, Herbert Hoover approached the stage at the RNC in Philadelphia.  He was greeted by a rousing ovation. These were his people, and they anticipated a fiery attack on Roosevelt, internationalism, and the New Deal from Hoover.  For his part, Hoover hoped to ride the wave of acclaim from this speech to the Republican nomination.  But the stampede to draft Hoover did not occur.

Many in the hall had difficulty hearing Hoover, shouting ‘Louder! We can’t hear you!’ Some blamed it on Hoover being too attentive to television cameras and microphones [this was the first political convention to be televised].  Others blamed it on Hoover standing too far from the microphones.  Still others hinted that malign forces had tampered with the sound system.   One Hoover backer swore the microphone ‘had been deliberately rigged and the loud speaker cut off.’  In any event, the damage was done.  Hoover did not emerge as a dark horse; Willkie led the Republican ticket to defeat in November 1940.

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Boys of Summer and the Fall Classic

As the calendar turns from September to October, baseball fans’ thoughts turn to the World Series.  Fans in Boston, Washington, Cleveland and on the north side of Chicago, cross their fingers and hope that this will be their year.  Long-suffering fans of the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, although their teams have clinched playoff berths, are double-crossing their fingers hoping their team reaches the World Series by safely navigating the playoff rounds.

Before 1969 there was no apprehension that a league-leading team would stub its toe in an early playoff series.  There were no playoff rounds.  The champions of the American and National Leagues met each other.  In 1953, there was little suspense over the last two months of the season.  The Brooklyn Dodgers had the National League title well in hand, repeating as champions.  The New York Yankees easily outpaced their American League foes, wrapping up their fifth consecutive pennant.  This set up the fourth Dodgers-Yankees World Series in seven years.

Herbert Hoover, an avid baseball fan, was offered a chance to attend World Series games by a New York friend with connections to both teams.  Hoover was working in Washington, but expressed hope that he might escape DC long enough ‘to do my duty towards the Dodgers.’  When Dodger President Walter O’Malley learned of Hoover’s interest, he wrote on September 4th: ‘Our ticket problems at such times are always acute, but never to the extent that we would not be able to save seats for you.’  Hoover asks for, and receives, six tickets to all games at Ebbets Field.  Not to be outdone, the Yankees treasurer assures Hoover on September 14th that he will set aside six seats for the Hoover party at Yankee Stadium.

Hoover enjoyed the Fall Classic between the Dodgers and Yankees.  The teams featured ten players who would eventually enter the Hall of Fame.  Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Dick Williams wore Dodger blue.  Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, and Phil Rizzuto wore pinstripes.  The Yankees won the Series in six games.

Afterward, Hoover shared his disappointment in a letter to O’Malley, but offered that axiomatic baseball salve: ‘Our hope springs eternal; there is always next year.’

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The President’s Conference on Unemployment – 1921


Cartoon from 1921 by William Morris

When President Harding was inaugurated in 1921, a sharp recession was underway that had begun the year before. By mid-1921, some five million people were out of work – perhaps 12% of the workforce. Concerns arose about the possibility of widespread hardship through the coming winter, and it was Harding’s Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, who suggested that a national conference was necessary to address the problem.

On August 12, 1921, Hoover sent a letter to President Harding proposing a national conference on the unemployment crisis. After Harding endorsed the idea, Hoover assembled an Economic Advisory Committee that prepared a preliminary report and recommendations for the conference. The President’s Conference on Unemployment convened September 26, 1921. After opening speeches by Harding and Hoover urging voluntary, cooperative solutions and warning that Federal funds were off limits, the Conference divided into ten subcommittees and began their work.

Over the next two-and-a-half weeks, the subcommittees essentially rubber-stamped Hoover’s recommendations. The final report of the Conference called for local Emergency Committees that would encourage and coordinate hiring by private businesses, and asked private businesses, and state and local governments to move forward any planned construction projects in order to generate short term jobs. The long-term recommendation of the Conference was to use public works projects to dampen the extremes of unemployment: during good times, state and local governments (the Federal government spent very little on public works at that time) could stockpile projects for implementation during economic downturns to reduce unemployment.

At the end of the Conference, Hoover created a Bureau of Unemployment in the Department of Commerce, which sent forth a deluge of reports, publications and press releases promoting the recommendations of the Conference. Local committees sprang up around the country, and businesses and government authorities dutifully scraped together funds to start new construction projects. As the winter approached, unemployment began to decline, rather than increase as would have been expected due to seasonal layoffs. Local charities were able to assist those who remained in need. The next spring, the economy was on the rebound, and Hoover declared the Unemployment Conference a complete success. Eight years later, after the 1929 stock market crash, President Hoover’s economic policies were based on the lessons learned in 1921.

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On Viewing Shakespeare’s First Folio


President Hoover and Lou Henry Hoover attended the opening of the Folger Shakespeare Library in 1932.

On viewing Shakespeare’s First Folio [currently on exhibit at the University of Iowa Library], a wandering Hoover archivist recalled correspondence exchanged between Emily Folger and Herbert Hoover.

Emily Folger, widow of Henry Clay Folger, wrote Hoover on July 28th 1934, seeking advice on who to hire as Director of the recently opened Folger Shakespeare Library.  Mrs. Folger asks Hoover to ‘give serious thought to the possibility of accepting the position yourself for a few years.’  She realizes that this may not be in keeping with Hoover’s sense of propriety regarding suitable activities for an ex-President.  She points out that ex-President Taft had served on the law faculty at Yale, commenting that the Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library would be a similar post.

Hoover replied on August 1st 1934, politely declining the position.  While acknowledging that serving as Director of the Folger would be ‘an enjoyable way to spend the autumn months of one’s life,’ Hoover felt that his duty lay in other directions.  Emily Folger thanked Hoover for his consideration in an August 15th letter, adding: ‘You are still my first choice.’  At this time, Hoover was working on Challenge to Liberty, an attack on the New Deal.  Hoover sent Emily Folger a copy of this book upon publication in September 1934.

In her letter thanking Hoover for Challenge to Liberty, Folger took the opportunity to observe that the ideas expressed in Hoover’s book were ‘clearly embraced with the universality of Shakespeare’s genius.’  She once again offered him the chance to head the Folger Library, pointing out that: ‘Your work can be better done from a library in Washington than from the Pacific coast.’ Once again, Hoover demurs.

Shakespeare’s First Folio will be on exhibit at the Main Library Gallery in the University of Iowa Library from August 29, 2016 to September 25, 2016.   The Emily Folger-Herbert Hoover correspondence will be available in the reading room of the Hoover Library forever.

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The Discovery of a Professional Tradition:  Herbert and Lou Hoover’s Translation of De Re Metallica

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Often projects that seem simple at first, become more complicated and involved once begun.  Unanticipated problems emerge as greater comprehension of what is required only emerges by working through the project.  And so it was when the Hoovers decided to undertake an English translation of Georgius Agricola’s De Re Metallica, a seminal text on mining engineering that only existed as a medieval Latin text.  Lou Henry Hoover studied Latin and was quite proficient.  The Hoovers originally thought that simply translating the Latin into English was all that was required.  They soon discovered that much more than a translation was needed.  Much of De Re Metallica dealt with mining processes that lacked Latin words.  Agricola had to invent Latin terms to describe various mining techniques and refining processes that were not part of traditional Latin vocabulary.  Moreover, only by experimentation and the process of elimination could the Hoovers determine which word stood from a specific mining technique or process.  Of greater significance was discovering that neither of them knew much about what had been written prior to the publication of De Re Metallica.  Not knowing what was available to Agricola for reference, the Hoovers had to build a library of mining texts that might have been used by Agricola to write De Re Metallica.

While all of these issues are interesting stories in and of themselves, perhaps the most unique revelation to Herbert Hoover was the discovery that mining engineering was truly an ancient profession with important ideals and lessons learned over the centuries.  “For many years I have been impressed,” wrote Hoover, “with the general assumption by the members of the engineering profession that theirs is the youngest of all the professions; that, as a profession, it was the creature of the last century; that it is without a long background of literature, history, tradition, and achievement.”  The real history and contributions of the engineering profession throughout history became clear to Hoover the more he became involved with translating Agricola’s work.


March 9, 1914 Mining and Metallurgical Society of America, at The Biltmore.


In his June 30, 1914 acceptance speech of the first gold medal awarded by the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America for their translation of Agricola, Herbert Hoover provided a brief account of both the history and lasting contributions of the mining profession.  Beginning with Vulcan on Mount Olympus, Hoover describes how Themistocles and Thucydides were miners. deremetallica-medal-box The miners of Laurium, Hoover noted, funded the creation of the Athenian fleet in the Battle of Salamis.  Claiming the Book of Jeremiah contained scores of technical references and metaphors that only a miner by profession would know, Hoover also asserted that it was the miners of Northern Europe who broke down “the universal tyranny of feudalism” by demanding and being granted “the free government of their own communities and industry: they had established their own officials and courts.  The free mining cities of Saxony and Bohemia, the self-governing communities of Cornwell, Devon, the Forests of Dean and Mendip, and the High Peak of Derbyshire had blazed the way to representative government long before the Mother of Parliaments sat at Westminster.  They even led the way for the free merchant cities of the Baltic and England, and soon after the arrival of the Normans, we find in English history references to the ‘miner’s right’ to their ‘ancient liberties’ and ‘customs,’ terms resonant of independence.”


In translating De Re Metallica, the Hoovers discovered they were part of an ancient and proud profession, rich in history and steeped with professional ideals that contribute to the betterment of individuals, communities, and nations.  It was through the preservation and wider access to ancient records and recognition of the rich history of the profession that provided the greatest satisfaction for both Herbert and Lou Hoover.


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Herbert Hoover and the Tommyknockers: Mythic Gnomes of the Mine Shafts

By Thomas F. Schwartz

If there is any public recognition of the word “Tommyknocker” it is probably a reference to the 1987 Stephen King novel The Tommyknockers or spin off ABC miniseries with Jimmy Smits and Marg Helgenberger.  The Stephen King novel’s use of “Tommyknocker” has nothing to do with the ancient mythic gnome that was widely known by miners.  Depending on the cultural context, Tommyknockers could be beneficial spirits or evil spirits.  Traditionally, miners who heard sounds before a shaft would collapse often attributed it to a “Tommyknocker.”  Certain cultures interpreted these sounds as coming from the spirits of dead miners, warning their brethren of the impending danger so they might escape death.  Other cultures saw the sounds as actually causing the mine collapse, imputing an evil motive to these spirits.  Generally, the more favorable view won the day as stories of Tommyknockers continued to flourish among the oral traditions of miners.

It was a little more than a year before his death that Herbert Hoover weighed in on the subject of Tommyknockers.  Joseph L. Milliken, who was leading the local organizing committee for the Grass Valley-Nevada City, California 4th of July celebration committee, asked Hoover if he had ever come across the term.  Wanting to use the term as the theme of the 1963 celebration, Milliken could not find any information about Tommyknockers at the public library.  He decided to go to one of the world’s leading mining engineers as a last resort.  Milliken also knew that Hoover got his start in the Grass Valley Reward gold mine working the ten hour evening shift, seven days a week at two dollars a day.  Hoover did not disappoint.  “The tommyknockers,” Hoover wrote, “were the gnomes who for centuries had given benevolent aid to the hard rock miners, mostly by warning of rock falls and water breaks.  They were associated with fairies, generally, and we all believe in fairies.  They have a long record with the happiness of miners.  About fifty years ago, Mrs. Hoover and I translated a book written in Latin about mining matters of four hundred years ago.  It describes the benevolent character of these gnomes, and their knocks to warn the miners.  I had occasion to meet the mining gnomes in person in a Russian Mine, somewhere about 1908.  The Russian miners so believed in them that they cast life-size figures of them in the machine shops and placed them in needed spots around and in the mines.  To prove my belief in their efficacy, I brought one of them home, although he weighs many pounds.  He still guards the entrance of my apartment in the Waldorf-Astoria.”


Statue that Hoover brought back from Russia, it guarded the entrance to his Waldorf Astoria apartment.

It took two attempts to get a photograph of Hoover’s Tommyknocker, or as Hoover put it “the photo of my door man,” to Milliken.  On the second effort Hoover wrote, “I do not know whether your search yielded a picture of a tommyknocker, but finally, here is a photograph of mine.  And I have recent reason to believe in his protective efficacy (at least he holds the door shut at times).”   Hoover’s “door man” remained a friendly mythic gnome protecting against evil spirits entering his residence at Suite 31-A, Waldorf Towers.



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The Papers of Rose Wilder Lane

Presidential Libraries are not libraries in the usual sense. They are archives and museums, bringing together in one place the documents and artifacts of a President and his administration and presenting them to the public for study and discussion.  Like all Presidential Libraries, the Hoover Library has collected documents and artifacts from many different individuals associated with the President, with sometimes surprising connections.


Rose Wilder Lane

One of the hidden gems at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum is our collection of the papers of Rose Wilder Lane.  Her papers at the Hoover Library document her extraordinary life as a journalist and an author, and reveal the important role she played in her later years formulating and promoting Libertarian ideas.  Lane was also an early biographer of Herbert Hoover — she published The Making of Herbert Hoover in 1920.

Lane was commissioned to write The Making of Herbert Hoover by Charles K. Field, editor of Sunset (a West Coast literary magazine) and a personal friend of Herbert Hoover.  At the time, Hoover was contemplating a run for President in 1920, and Field wanted to help.  Lane’s biography likely had little effect on the campaign, but Lane and Hoover continued for many years to correspond about topics of shared interest.

Lane’s papers also reveal her important role as the editor of the “Little House on the Prairie” books written by her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Wilder had only limited writing experience when she embarked on the series of books that captivate young readers to the present day.  Quite logically, Wilder turned to her daughter, a more experienced writer, for assistance.

Their collaboration was not without conflict.  Correspondence preserved in the Lane Papers documents the dynamic tension of the creative process.  Wilder submitted drafts of her work to her daughter with a certain trepidation.  Lane edited and typed the manuscripts, and made suggestions for modifications she thought necessary.  She also served as her mother’s go-between with literary agents and publishers.  Over more than a dozen years, Wilder and Lane captured in eight volumes the essence of growing up on the American frontier.

The five boxes of “Little House” documents in the Lane Papers have become some of the 9780062419682_05590most heavily used materials in our holdings.  Scholars and fans of the “Little House” books from all over the world have come to West Branch to learn more about the real people and real stories behind the beloved children’s books.

On Monday, September 5, 2016 at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, author William Anderson will be
at the Hoover Library to discuss his research and writing connected with the “Little House” pioneer classics, and his work in compiling the recent New York Times bestselling book, The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder.


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Jonathan Eig, author of Get Capone, Speaking at the Hoover Museum

eig image2New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Eig will be discussing his book, Get Caponeat the Hoover Presidential Library-Museum on August 20, 2016 at 2:00 p.m.

Get Capone draws on thousands of pages of recently discovered government documents, wiretap transcripts, and Al Capone’s handwritten personal letters. Jonathan Eig, New York Times bestselling author, tells the dramatic story of the rise and fall of the nation’s most notorious criminal in rich new detail.

In 1920 Al Capone arrived in Chicago and found himself in a world of limitless opportunity. Within a few years, Capone controlled an illegal bootlegging business with annual revenue rivaling that of some of the nation’s largest corporations. Along the way he corrupted the Chicago police force and local courts while becoming one of the world’s first international celebrities. Hoover knew that bringing down Capone would not end the violence but that it would send a message to the rest of the criminal world.

Hoover on Prohibition

On January 17, 1920, it became illegal to produce, transport, or sell “intoxicating beverages” anywhere in the United States – this was Prohibition. The ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in January 1919 and the passing of the Volstead Law – made it illegal to produce, transport, or sell alcohol anywhere in the United States. The Volstead Law effectively closed every single bar, tavern, and saloon in the country. It also turned millions of Americans into criminals.

As President, Herbert Hoover supported Prohibition, but also recognized that evasion of the law was widespread and that it had fueled the growth of organized crime. Hoover vowed to put an end to this lawlessness.

In May 1929, Hoover established the National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement. This commission was charged with identifying the causes of criminal activity and making policy recommendations. The final report, released early in 1931, documented the widespread evasion of Prohibition and its negative effects on American society. Recommendations included much more aggressive and extensive law enforcement to enforce compliance with anti-alcohol laws.  The report also castigated the police for their “general failure… to detect and arrest criminals guilty of the many murders, spectacular ban, payroll and other holdups and sensational robberies with guns.”

Hoover was resolutely committed to law and order.  Capone was intent on flaunting the system to enrich himself and his cronies.  Something had to give.  In the end, Hoover’s administration was able to garner sufficient evidence to convict Capone, not on any criminal charges directly, but on tax evasion.  Jonathan Eig brings this story to light with his lively Get Capone.


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