Do you know your Hoovers?  An historical field guide

by Spencer Howard

Here at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum, we often receive questions about other famous people named Hoover, and which Hoover did what.  There are a surprising number of Hoovers and Hoover families in the United States, many of whom are entirely unrelated to each other.  It is not unusual for different Hoovers to be confused with one another.  This is nothing new, in fact, many years ago Herbert Hoover and J. Edgar Hoover often received each other’s mail by mistake!   To help you sort it all out, here is a handy field guide to five of the most famous Hoovers of the 20th century, all in one place for your convenience.

President Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) – 31st President of the United States.  The son of a Quaker blacksmith, orphaned at an early age, Hoover achieved international success as a mining engineer, consultant and financier.  During and after World War I he earned world-wide gratitude as “The Great Humanitarian” by organizing food relief for millions of people in war-torn Europe. 

When Warren Harding became President in 1921, he appointed Hoover Secretary of Commerce.  Hoover took it upon himself to make the Commerce Department a powerful service organization, with a mission to help business and industry become more profitable and efficient, both for the owners and the workers.  In 1928, Hoover’s reputation, experience, and public popularity coalesced and he was elected 31st President of the United States in a landslide.

Within a few short months the economy began to falter.  In October, the stock market crashed, marking the beginning of the Great Depression.  As unemployment climbed, many people felt overwhelmed and believed that only the Federal government had the power and the resources to help.  At times, President Hoover did not communicate very well with the public – he did not seem very reassuring, and he did not explain very well what the government was doing to help the economy.  To most Americans, President Hoover was a remote, grim-faced man in a double-breasted suit.  They saw none of his private anguish throughout sixteen-hour days as he sought to turn the tide.    

By 1932, Hoover had started or expanded numerous government programs to restore the economy, but people across the United States were unhappy with the rate of recovery and no longer trusted Hoover’s leadership.  With the Presidential election approaching, the Democratic candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, promised the people a “New Deal.”  In November 1932, Roosevelt was elected President.  

Hoover’s defeat at the hands of Franklin D. Roosevelt left his once bright reputation tarnished, yet he refused to fade away.  In 1946 Hoover returned to government service at Harry Truman’s invitation to avert global famine at the end of the Second World War.  The following year, Truman asked Hoover to chair a commission on reorganizing the executive branch of the federal government.  In 1953, President Eisenhower asked Herbert Hoover to undertake a second similar commission.  Throughout his post-presidency, Hoover wrote many articles and books, and worked on behalf of numerous charities including the Boy Scouts and the Boys Clubs.

J. Edgar Hoover

J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) – 1st Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  (No relation to President Hoover.)  John Edgar Hoover joined the Department of Justice in 1917 and rose quickly in government service. In 1924, Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone appointed the 29-year-old Hoover to be director of the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation.  In 1933, the BOI was reorganized as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with J. Edgar Hoover as its first director.

Under Director Hoover, the Bureau grew in responsibility and importance, becoming an integral part of the national government and an icon in American popular culture. In the 1930s, the FBI thwarted violent crime by gangsters and implemented programs to professionalize U.S. law enforcement through training and forensic assistance. 

During the 1940s and 1950s, the Bureau garnered headlines for its staunch efforts against Nazi and Communist espionage. In the early years of the Cold War, the Bureau took on the added responsibility of investigating the backgrounds of government employees to ensure that foreign agents did not infiltrate the government. More traditional criminal investigations included car thefts, bank robberies, and kidnappings.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Bureau took on investigations in the field of civil rights and organized crime. The threat of political violence occupied many of the Bureau’s resources as did the threat of foreign espionage. In spite of J. Edgar Hoover’s age and length of service, presidents of both parties made the decision to keep him at the helm of the Bureau until his death on May 2, 1972.

William H. “Boss” Hoover

William H. “Boss” Hoover (1849-1932) – Founder of the Hoover vacuum cleaner company.  (No relation to President Hoover or J. Edgar Hoover).  William H. Hoover was born in 1849. As a young man, he became involved with the tanning and leather goods industries in North Canton, Ohio.  

In 1908, Hoover was impressed by a suction sweeper invented by a local janitor, James M. Spangler.  Hoover bought the patent and with his sons founded the Electric Suction Sweeper Company, retaining Spangler as production supervisor and paying him royalties on his invention. Spangler worked for the company until his death in 1915 when the name was changed to the Hoover Suction Sweeper Company.  In addition to the headquarters in Ohio, the company began manufacturing vacuum cleaners in Canada where they were shipped to Great Britain and quickly captured the market.  To this day, many people in Great Britain refer to vacuuming as “hoovering.”

In 1922 “Boss” Hoover’s son Herbert W. Hoover became the company’s president, renaming the firm The Hoover Company.  William Hoover died in 1932, but under his son’s leadership, The Hoover Company continued to prosper.

Herbert W. Hoover

Herbert W. Hoover, Sr. (1877- 1954) – Co-founder and later president of the Hoover vacuum cleaner company.  (No relation to President Hoover or J. Edgar Hoover).  Herbert W. Hoover continued in his father’s footsteps as president of The Hoover Company.  In the 1930s, Hoover hired industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss to bring a streamlined, modern look to Hoover vacuums.  Hoover’s innovative marketing techniques and quality products made The Hoover Company for a time the largest vacuum cleaner manufacturer in the world.  

During World War II, Herbert W. Hoover offered to bring any child of a British employee to North Canton where they would be safe from harm.  During the Battle of Britain in 1940, 84 children were evacuated and arrived safely in North Canton.  The children were fostered in homes throughout the community until the war ended five years later.

The Hoover Company became publicly traded for the first time in 1943.  After the war they continued to expand the product line, and in 1954 Herbert W. Hoover’s son succeeded him as president of the company.  Over time the company’s market dominance faded, and after a series of mergers, The Hoover Company became a subsidiary of Maytag Corporation.

Herbert Hoover Jr.

Herbert Hoover Jr. (1903-1969) – Under Secretary of State.  Eldest son of President Herbert Hoover (but no relation to the other Hoovers on this list).   Like his father he attended Stanford University, graduating in 1925 with a degree in petroleum geology.  He received an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School in 1928.  From 1929 through 1934, Hoover was a technical consultant for Western Air Express, helping develop a system for coordinating radio facilities throughout the country for pilot-to-ground and pilot-to-pilot communication.

In 1935, Hoover founded United Geophysical Company, which utilized radio and electronic technology for oil exploration.  He served as a consultant on oil matters to foreign governments including Venezuela, Iran, Brazil, and Peru.  In 1953, he was appointed by President Eisenhower as Special Adviser on worldwide petroleum matters to the Secretary of State, and was appointed Under Secretary of State in 1954.  He retired from the State Department in 1957 and returned to private industry.  

One thought on “Do you know your Hoovers?  An historical field guide

  1. I am related to J. Edgar Hoover, as his sister was my Grandmother on my Mother’s side. The U.S. Government recently completed a DNA test in early 2022 involving DNA from Herbert Hoover and J. Edgar Hoover and concluded that BOTH Hoovers that used to receive each others’ mail WERE IIN FACT RELATED TO EACH OTHER.
    All you have to do is LOOK at Herbert Hoover JR., and see how much he resembles John Edgar Hoover. For security reasons, the 2 men DENIED claims of relativity.

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