by Matthew Schaefer
For some the end of the year is a time of reflection—a time to assess what has happened, what may yet come, and where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Herbert Hoover gave voice to such reflections in the late Decembers between 1913 and 1918. Hoover later titled these notes ‘Information for biographers’ which open:
‘There is little importance to man’s lives except the accomplishments they leave to posterity…. These notes have been kept and entered anew each New Year’s for many years. The record for the years up to 1913 was written up at one time, afterwards in annual installments.’
Hoover then proceeds to tell his life story from his birth in West Branch, through his years in Oregon, time at Stanford, and he provides a detailed resume of his mining career from 1895 onward. This resume describes his work in Australia, China, South Africa, Burma, and Russia—offering details on number of men employed, ore refined, and moneys invested.
The closing paragraphs give a final recap of Hoover’s mining career and insight into his new ambition. ‘By January 1st 1914, I was in position apparently to amass a fortune of some $30,000,000…. [but] the War crushed this fortune down by 95%…. 1914—While in California home at Christmas resolved to stop further money-making for good. It led nowhere but to responsibilities and I felt I had 40 years left that I might give to public service.’
This was the pivotal point for Hoover, turning away from the game of making money and toward the calling of public service. For Hoover this service included food relief during and after both World Wars, serving as Secretary of Commerce and President, and working with Boys’ Clubs of America. In doing these diverse public endeavors, Hoover heeded his own counsel, first written in his 1913 memoir: ‘When all is said and done accomplishment is all that counts.’