by Spencer Howard
What do you give a friend who has everything?
For the last twenty years of his life, Herbert Hoover lived in suite 31A of the Waldorf Towers in New York. The Waldorf was one of the most exclusive addresses in New York, and Hoover’s neighbors included General Douglas MacArthur, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., songwriter Cole Porter, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the former King Edward VIII and his bride Wallis Simpson). Hoover became especially good friends with millionaire businessman and philanthropist Jeremiah Milbank and his wife Katharine. Hoover and the Milbanks often ate together, and after dinner they would play Hoover’s favorite card game, Canasta.
For holidays and special events, Hoover would send cards, flowers, and gourmet food to the Milbanks, but it was always challenging to find a special gift for people who had, or could buy, everything they wanted. Mrs. Milbank (who went by the nickname Kitty) showed an interest in Hoover’s writings and speeches, so he developed a habit of giving her autographed copies of his books, or the original reading copies of his speeches, often with a brief notation in the margin. Mrs. Milbank later donated all of these gifts to the Hoover Library.
One notable example is the reading copy of the speech he gave at Cairo, Egypt in April, 1946. At that time, Hoover was traveling around the world on a famine survey for President Truman. Hoover traveled 35,000 miles and visited twenty-two countries in fifty-seven days, tallying food shortages and surpluses around the globe. A detailed account of the trip, with accompanying documents, is available on the Truman Library website.
Despite the looming threat of starvation overseas, public opinion in the U.S. was hostile or indifferent to providing food for either our former allies or enemies. On April 19, part way through the survey tour, Hoover and Truman gave a joint broadcast on all four American radio networks, Hoover speaking from Cairo and Truman from Washington. The complete text of Hoover’s speech is available on our website.
As Hoover later commented to Kitty in the margin of his speech, “This is one of the most important broadcasts I have ever made.” Hoover”s speech, as well as his reports and statements following the survey trip, resulted in the conservation and reallocation of critical food supplies that sustained the devastated parts of Europe and Asia until the following harvest. Truman later thanked Hoover, noting that “without your efforts, and the willing cooperation of all our people who could help in any way in the famine program, the suffering abroad would have been much greater during those dread months last spring and summer when so many nations had exhausted their own food supplies.”