The Making of the Modern Myth

Herbert Hoover mentored and befriended many young men and women who latter achieved prominence in diverse fields of endeavor.  One such relationship was with a young diplomat, Hugh Gibson, serving as secretary of the legation in Brussels, Belgium during the early years of World War I.  Gibson was present during the meeting when the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Walter Hines Page, urged Hoover to take on the task of running the Commission for Relief in Belgium.  Although a career diplomat, Gibson became a life-long admirer of Hoover supporting both the Iowan’s political and humanitarian efforts.  Another commonality shared by Hoover and Gibson was their enjoyment of a good martini.

The origins of the “Gibson” martini remain murky.  Recipes for the Gibson martini exist as early as 1908 but the one characteristic element that makes a Gibson martini distinctive from other martinis is the use of a pearl onion.  That does not appear in recipes until 1922.  Hugh Gibson is occasionally credited for creating the “Gibson” martini.  Neil MacNeil, Washington correspondent for Time magazine, provided a recollection of Gibson’s own explanation about the famous martini:

“Years ago I served for a time in the State Department in Washington, in the old building on Pennsylvania Avenue, beside the White House.  At the end of each day’s work a group of us would walk to the Metropolitan Club for a drink.  Almost every one in the party, myself included, would order a Martini.  Most of the boys would order a second, and some a third drink.  I just could not take a second drink and be any good for the rest of the evening, and at the same time I did not want to ruin the party for the rest of the boys, so I arranged with the bartender to fill my glass with plain water on the second and all later rounds.  As he did not want to confound my drink of plain water with the others he got into the habit of placing a pickled, baby onion in it.

It was not long before the boys discovered that I was taking drink after drink with all of them and yet remained sober.  At first they credited me with an extraordinary capacity to absorb alcohol.  Later some of them thought that it might be the drink, and some of them began to order a ‘Gibson.’  Again the bartender came to my rescue.  He served those who ordered a ‘Gibson’ a new kind of powerhouse, almost all gin and very little vermouth, and of course he put an onion in it to make it appear genuine.”

Herbert Hoover's martini set from the collections at the Hoover Presidential Library-Museum.
Herbert Hoover’s martini set from the collections at the Hoover Presidential Library-Museum.

It should be noted that it is not known whether Hoover preferred his martini with or without a garnish.  We do know that he limited himself and his guests to two martinis and always with dinner.  Late in his life when health problems continued to plague Hoover, his doctors urged him to quit drinking martinis.  He refused.  The doctors then persuaded Hoover to cut his consumption from two glasses a day to simply one drink.  This Hoover pledged to do.  Hoover then instructed his assistants to put his martini in a larger glass therefore honoring the promise he made to his doctors.

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