A Problem of Youth:  Herbert Hoover’s Changeable Age

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Many young people are in a hurry to grow up and be able to do things that their age prevents.  Once they get older, they begin to pine for the previous unencumbered joys of childhood.  It remains a great irony of life.  Herbert Hoover was one of the many precocious youth who struggled to overcome his age.

Herbert Hoover dressed for job interview. ca.1899
Herbert Hoover grew a beard and mustache for a job interview with Bewick, Moreing and Company.

He was one of the youngest in the founding class enrolling at Stanford at the age of seventeen.  After graduation, Hoover’s great break in life came when his employer, Louis Janin, recommended him for an engineering position with Bewick, Moreing and Company in March 1897.  The position description indicated that the applicant should be a least thirty-five years of age.  Hoover at the time was not yet twenty-three but Janin dismissed the requirement, believing Hoover was capable of doing the work.  Growing a beard and mustache was a way of projecting a more mature image for a person with boyish facial features.  Bewick, Moreing asked Hoover to travel to London for an interview.  The ship’s register listed Hoover’s age as thirty-six.  Staying at the residence of one of the company’s principals, Charles Algernon Moreing, Hoover’s facial hair fooled no one.  Comments about how Americans were able to preserve their youthful appearance suggested that the company was more interested in skills and ability than an arbitrary age.  When in London, Hoover also applied to become a member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, indicating his age on the application to be over twenty-five when he was actually twenty-two.  In spite of his youth, Bewick, Moreing hired Hoover to begin work in the gold mines of Western Australia.  Thus began his legendary career as a mining engineer.

One would think that once Hoover achieved success and fame, the question of his age would disappear. Some things only end when you outgrow them, as was the case with Hoover’s age.  As late as 1901, the American consul at Tientsin, China listed on the register of Americans the age of thirty-one for the twenty-seven year old Hoover.

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