Oil and Water Part I

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Herbert Hoover early in his mining career, ca. 1900

Arthur Beeby-Thompson, recognized only by a handful of people with knowledge of the oil industry, forged an early and lasting friendship with Herbert Hoover.  Beeby-Thompson’s 1961 autobiography has a forward written by Hoover.  Their friendship began in 1908 and continued until Hoover’s death in 1964.  It was based both upon their shared profession as mining engineers in the exploration and extraction of minerals including oil, as well as their love of fishing which will be explored in a later blog.

As Beeby-Thompson indicates, Hoover was unusual in the mining field since he early embraced petroleum engineers as part of the profession.  Before 1910, when oil became so profitable it was hard to ignore, most mining engineering firms considered petroleum beyond the province of mining.  “Black gold” was liquid whereas other valuable mining extractions were solid ores.  Hoover’s willingness to finance oil exploration is not typically discussed as part of his success as a mining engineer.  Beeby-Thompson’s long association allowed him to provide some trenchant observations about Hoover the businessman.  “Hoover’s associates included some of the most astute financiers in Britain,” Beeby-Thompson wrote, “and I found every meeting not only an education, but an opportunity for character study.  Hoover would sit at the board-room table, silent and sphinx-like, intently following the discussions, doodling on the papers before him, never interposing a remark until the occasion warranted, and then doing so tersely and emphatically.”

Both men not only shared in business ventures but became friends beyond business.  They often had dinners at each other’s residence when Hoover lived in London.  Hoover, standing with his back to the library fire before dinner at Beeby-Thompson’s house declared “Beeby, your house is a refrigerator, not a home.”  Beeby-Thompson indicated that the British typically kept the temperature about 65 degrees whereas Americans liked their homes much warmer.  Years later, Beeby-Thompson and his wife visited Hoover at Suite 31-A at the Waldorf-Astoria.  Hoover, not one for small talk, discussed his role as head of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of Government requested by President Truman. Something unusual followed.  “When he [Hoover] showed me a portrait of his deceased wife, whom we had admired so much, I was surprised to see tears well into the eyes of this unemotional man as he murmured a tribute to her.  Life had evidently modified the rigidity of his iron self-control.”  That visit occurred in 1948 which also took Beeby-Thompson to a speaking engagement at the University of Iowa.  He used that trip to visit West Branch and see Herbert Hoover’s birthplace which was a tourist site.  His visit ended appropriately at the Hoover Institution on the campus of Stanford University.  Stanford not only produced Herbert Hoover but a number of world-renown geologists.  Bailey Willis had worked with Beeby-Thompson in Tanganyika in 1929.  Recalling a story about Willis, it seems a student queried Willis about why his lecture expressed views that were at odds with his early writings.  “Yes,” said Willis, “I’m afraid that that young Bailey Willis has caused me much trouble in his later years.”

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