In March, 1931, Herbert Hoover decided to take a Caribbean cruise. He had taken only one brief vacation during the first two years of his Presidency, and badly needed some rest. The battleship Arizona had just finished a two year overhaul and was scheduled to make a “shakedown” cruise off the east coast, so the President decided to go along for the ride. (Yes, this was the same Arizona that met her tragic fate at Pearl Harbor, ten years later.)
As usual, Hoover could not resist mixing work with pleasure, and arranged to stop in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was accompanied by Secretary of War Patrick Hurley and Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur, a few aides, and 25 members of the press. (Mrs. Hoover stayed in Washington.) Arizona left from Old Point Comfort, Virgina, on March 19, 1931. For four days, Hoover relaxed on board, taking long naps and playing medicine ball on deck. In the evenings he watched movies with members of the crew.
On March 23, Hoover landed at Ponce and traveled overland by car to San Juan, where he addressed the Puerto Rican legislature. Puerto Rico was still recovering from a devastating hurricane in 1928 in addition to years of economic distress, and the new governor, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., had made great progress. He had spearheaded private fundraising in the U.S. and lobbied repeatedly before an indifferent Congress. He had also become very popular with the natives because he had worked very hard to learn Spanish and began his speeches with the phrase “we Puerto Ricans.” President Hoover’s visit gave him the opportunity to see first hand the problems and progress that Gov. Roosevelt had described.
On March 24, Hoover crossed the island again and rejoined Arizona at Ponce. Hoover’s second stop was the U.S. Virgin Islands, which had been purchased for use as a naval base during World War I. A week before Hoover’s visit, his order transferring the administration of the islands from the Navy to the Interior Department went into effect, and the new governor, Dr. Paul M. Pearson, had just arrived. On March 25, Hoover landed for a few hours at St. Thomas. The U.S. Virgin Islands were in worse shape than Puerto Rico – their shaky economy had been almost entirely dependent on producing rum, which was outlawed when Prohibition went into effect ten years earlier. Politically, it was impossible at that time to consider allowing the resumption of rum production, so President Hoover concluded that the only option was to ask Congress for increased economic assistance for the islands.
The return journey, like the outward leg, was warm and sunny. When the President landed at Hampton Roads on March 30, he was visibly refreshed and tanned, and was ready to get back to work. The press contingent on the trip had enjoyed their vacation too. At the single press conference Hoover held during the cruise, he had admonished them, “These are days to sleep and I do not think that anyone expect you to send many news dispatches…I think 3 days of sleep would do us all good.