On the Passing of Lou Henry Hoover

Lou Henry Hoover passed away 01/07/1944 – funeral was held in St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York. Hoover, Herbert Jr., and Allan in the front row

Lou Henry Hoover died on Friday January 7, 1944 at the Waldorf-Astoria suite that she shared with her husband Herbert Hoover.  The following Monday more than 1500 mourners attended her memorial service at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.  There was no eulogy.  After the service, the Hoover family took the mortal remains of Lou Henry Hoover to Palo Alto for internment near to her home overlooking the Stanford campus and close to the mountain trails that she loved to hike.

While the service for Mrs. Hoover included no eulogy, her lifetime of achievement was not allowed to pass without comment.  Many friends, colleagues, and strangers whose lives felt the impact of Lou Hoover offered testimonials.  Long-time Stanford friend Will Irwin noted that Lou had nearly unlimited tolerance for human frailties in others, but she did not tolerate them in herself.

Secretary and friend Dare Stark McMullin offered moving descriptions of Lou Henry Hoover’s willingness to help others in times of need—during the Boxer Rebellion, in London at the outset of World War I, assisting her husband’s food relief via the Commission for Relief in Belgium, and as First Lady.  Lou never sought public acknowledgment for this assistance, preferring clandestine acts of kindness.  McMullin concluded: ‘The person I’d like most to meet in the middle of an earthquake is Mrs. Hoover.’

Despite her frequent protestations that, ‘Goodness me, I wouldn’t know what to do with a daughter;’ Lou Henry Hoover had, in essence, 840,000 ‘daughters’ in the Girl Scouts at the time of her death.  Her deep involvement with Girl Scouts sparked troops and leaders across the nation to offer tributes and memorials.  One especially apt tribute was the dedication of the Azalea Trails in the San Jacinto Mountains in California.  This was appropriate given Lou’s lifelong habit of hiking California trails.  She kept a child’s love of the outdoors as a place to explore.  Because of this zest, one scout leader described Lou thusly: ‘She died the youngest woman of her years that I have ever known.’

Many more such tributes and testimonials can be found in boxes 138 and 139 of the Subject Files of the Lou Henry Hoover papers.

Posted in First Ladies, Lou Henry Hoover | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Hoover and His Young Advisors

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Presidents receive endless unsolicited advice on what to do and how to do it.  Modern Presidents, even with the most vigilant staff, cannot prevent unsolicited advice from reaching their boss, especially in open public settings.  Hoover tended to be impatient with advice given by adults, especially from the general public.  But he always indulged advice sent by children, perhaps realizing how much encouragement from an adult could mean in their lives.  In two instances, children initiated their own hunger relief efforts to help the less fortunate during the depression.

Anne Warner Burnham, a ten-year-old from Elizabeth, New Jersey enlisted the help of her friends and decided to put on a play in the living room of a friend and also sold fudge and lemonade.  The proceeds from the sale of tickets and food was sent to the Red Cross and the following letter went to President Hoover:

“I am writing to tell you about a play we gave for the benefit of the Red Cross because I think it would be good if you told other little children about it.  If lots of kids everywhere give plays they can get lots of money to help the poor people who need food and clothes.  They don’t need to be very old to do it, because I am only ten….We gave a Punch and Judy show and movies, but the movies didn’t work.  We sold lemonade and fudge.  We charged two cents admission and made $6.31.  Nobody grown up helped us.  We gave the money to the American Red Cross chapter in Elizabeth.”

Another precocious five-year old, Rosemary Ernisse of Webster, New York, was so moved by hearing of plight of people living in drought affected areas, she robbed her piggy bank of a half dollar and sent it to Hoover with the following:

“Dear Mr. Hoover:  Here is a big white penny from my bank.  Will you buy some bread and butter and milk and candy for the little boys and girls who are hungry?”

It is said that good habits developed early in life carry on into adult life.  The caring actions of both Anne Warner Burnham and Rosemary Ermosse reinforced Hoover’s belief in the generosity of average of Americans in addressing the needs of the less fortunate.


Posted in Depression, Herbert Hoover, Presidency | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Oval Office Roasting on a 1929 Christmas Fire

By Thomas F. Schwartz

White House fire, Christmas Eve, 1929.

White House fire, Christmas 1929.

A previous blog described Christmas gifts Lou Henry Hoover gave to people in 1930.  Made from century-old pine beams original to the White House and removed in the 1927 renovation by Calvin Coolidge, some of the oral histories conducted with associates of Herbert Hoover conflate these gifts with the 1929 fire in the Oval Office that occurred on Christmas Eve.  All the information on the 1929 fire are based upon contemporary newspaper accounts which reported information in real time.  It should also be noted that the Oval Office of today is in a different location from that of Hoover.  Hoover used the Oval Office created by William Howard Taft.  After fire destroyed it in 1929, it wasn’t until 1933 that Franklin D. Roosevelt rebuilt an expanded version of the West Wing relocating the office to its current location.

The source of the fire initially was reported as an overheated chimney flue but later was determined likely to have originated from defective wiring in the attic.  Smoke was noticed by a White House telephone operator who sounded the alarm.  The fire was thought to be contained when the first engines arrived.  But flames suddenly appeared in areas outside of the fire zone.  In the end, it became a four alarm fire with dozens of engines and ladder companies working to extinguish the inferno.  Although most of President Hoover’s important papers were saved, the Executive offices were destroyed.  A number of miscellaneous documents littered the White House lawn in the aftermath.  Hoover’s friend and Secretary of Interior, Ray Lyman Wilbur, picked up some of the letters from the lawn as souvenirs.  In 1946, Wilbur sent them to the Hoover Library along with a cover letter indicating their origin.

Fire truck from 1929 on display at the Hoover Presidential Library-Museum

Fire truck from 1929 on display at the Hoover Presidential Library-Museum.

Despite the commotion, Mrs. Hoover continued a party for the children of their good friends in the main portion of the White House which was unaffected by the fire.  Among those in attendance were the three sons of George Akerson, Hoover’s press secretary.  The following year, the Akerson boys were invited to the White House again for a Christmas party.  The following is a memorandum written by Mrs. George Akerson about the gifts the Hoover’s gave their three sons:

To Keep!

Enclosed three fire-engines which the boys received from around the tree in the East Room on Christmas Eve, December 1930, when the President & Mrs. Hoover had their grandchildren, Peggy-Ann, & Peter (Herbert III) as co-hosts with them.

Mrs. Hoover, herself, told the children the fire engines were there in memory of the fire the year before!

Enclosed, also, three brass bells carried by boys on march thru White House after Christmas Eve dinner (& ladies carried candles) & all were in search for “Santa Claus.”

As a mother of two sons, Lou Henry Hoover knew to get three different fire-engines so each of the Akerson boys would be able to distinguish their own.  The fire engines were produced by the Kenton Toy Manufacturing Company of Kenton, Ohio, a popular creator of cast iron toys.

Posted in Christmas | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tales of the Sea Christmas Exhibit

Reposted from the Declarations Blog

Tales of the Sea Christmas exhibit


On November 18, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum kicked off the holiday season with the “Tales of the Sea Christmas” exhibit. The exhibit will run through January 7, 2018.

Since 1990, the Hoover Museum has presented a decorated tree exhibit every year, beginning with “Christmas Around the World,” which featured trees of countries where the Hoovers had either lived or visited.

Assistant curator Melanie Wier spent about a year working on the Christmas tree exhibit. This year, “Tales of the Sea Christmas” honors Hoover’s love of the sea and fishing.

“Each year, I propose themes that can be broken down into 20 sub-themes, since we usually have 20 trees, and present the ideas to the curatorial team,” Wier said. “Then we flesh out ideas and vote on the one we like best. We try to make sure the exhibit has a direct connection to Hoover at least every other year. This year’s theme was born from Herbert Hoover’s love of the sea, his sea journeys, and artifacts we have related to crossing the equator ceremonies that he and his family took part in.”


These three trees represent Lighthouses, Myths & Legends, and Maritime Service.

Jaws tree

Jaws tree.









There are 17 trees in the exhibit this year, including:
The Sea

  • The Sea
    Men of the Sea
  • Myths & Legends
  • Lighthouses
  • Maritime Service
  • Shipwrecks
  • Jaws (image on right)
  • Sea Songs
  • America’s Cup Race
  • King Neptune
  • Pirates
  • Sea Monsters
  • Mermaids
  • Biblical Stories
  • Places of the Sea
  • Vessels
  • Titanic

The curatorial staff offers Hoover Library staff, volunteers, and interns the opportunity to decorate a tree. The Hoover Library also invites the Cedar Valley Chapter of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America to come and decorate a tree each year.

While decorating a tree may sound simple, Wier maintains extensive worksheets in order to keep track of each tree’s ornaments, decorations, lights, and more. Each tree ranges from seven to nine feet tall, and is designed based on the research she collects for each one.

“I reuse ornaments from years past, make some of the ornaments and decor, and order at least one new ornament for each tree. The gift shop also sells a selection of the new ornaments,” Wier explained. “Each tree also has a topper, garland, tree skirt, and five or more strands of lights. There is also an individual label for each tree that tells about the tree topic.”


Sea Monsters

Sea Monsters

Assistant curator Melanie Wier created a number of ornaments and decor for the Tales of the Sea Christmas exhibit. Here is a look at the tentacles on the Sea Monster tree

Wier’s favorite part of working on the exhibit is the opportunity to be creative.

“I love being able to create ornaments and decor for the exhibit,” she said. “I have a studio art background and always enjoy the opportunity to create. For this exhibit, I made tentacles, kelp, coral, shipwrecked masts, sea-themed kids activities, ornaments, and swathed the walls in blue fabrics.”

Outside of the exhibit, museum galleries will feature Hoover family movies from 1928 and a large area of games and activities for children.

“This exhibit is always fun for families over the holidays,” Wier said. “I hope that visitors come away from this exhibit with wonderful memories of visiting the Herbert Hoover Museum and that they are eager to return for their next adventure!

Posted in Museum Exhibits | Tagged | Leave a comment

Stanford-Cal Big Game

by Matthew Schaefer

"A unique portrait of Herbert Hoover as formed by the cheering section of the University of California during a Cal-Stanford football game." 11/27/1928

“A unique portrait of Herbert Hoover as formed by the cheering section of the University of California during a Cal-Stanford football game.” 11/27/1928

While every region has its natural collegiate rivals in football—think Auburn-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma—only one rivalry comes complete with capital letters.  The Stanford-Cal Big Game [always capitalized by the cognoscenti] dates back to 1892, when Walter Camp coached the Stanford team to a 14-10 victory over their rivals across the bay.  As a student, Herbert Hoover played a small role as financial manager for the 1894 Big Game [won by Stanford 6-0], a tale he relates in fine detail in the first volume of his memoirs.

Lou Henry Hoover did not write memoirs regarding her engagement with the Big Game.  We are left with two folders in box 83 of her Subject Files.  Not surprisingly, the folders are titled ‘Big Game, 1933-1939.’  These folders contain Lou Hoover’s invitations, guest lists, correspondence and summary of finances related to the Big Games of 1933, 1935, 1937 and 1939.

At this time, the Hoovers had returned to private-ish life in Palo Alto.  As prominent Stanford alumni, the Hoovers hosted large luncheons prior to the Big Game.  Given the conventions of the time, this entailed invitation letters, written letters of acceptance and regret, and documentation of logistical details for hosting scores of people for lunch.  Among the invitees were prominent figures from both Cal and Stanford.

In 1935, William Henry Crocker, a long-time friend of the Hoovers who was also a member of Cal’s Board of Regents, accepted Lou Hoover’s invitation to lunch with tongue firmly planted in cheek.  Crocker wrote that while one coffee and one sandwich would suffice for him, his guest [a large man] would need two of each.  He continued: ‘I am sorry indeed that I am so bound up with the traditions and connections with the University of California that I shall not be permitted to root for Stanford.’  Lou Hoover took the gibes in stride, buoyed later by the game’s outcome—a 13-0 Stanford victory.

The Big Game folder for 1939 contains scores of letters, showing Lou Hoover’s deft diplomacy as she invited 80 guests from both sides of the Big Game divide.  In writing to her Stanford mates, Lou is frank: ‘They tell us it is not going to be a good game… But you might have an amusing time anyway.’  On the Cal side of the divide, Lou invited Robert and Ida Sproul, President and ‘First Lady’ of Cal from 1930-1958.  Ida Sproul sent regrets, explaining that she and her husband had already accepted a luncheon invitation to the home of Ray Lyman Wilbur, the President of Stanford who shared a decades-long friendship with the Hoovers.

Leave to the ever gracious Lou Henry Hoover to deflect and defuse the deep antipathies of football rivalries.

Posted in Sports and Leisure | Tagged , | Leave a comment

From Plenty to Thrift

By Thomas F. Schwartz

World War I food poster.

World War I food poster.

Many families in the United States are fortunate enough to celebrate the holidays with a plethora of food.  At a time of gift-giving and worrying about expanding waistlines, we often forget about the needy and hungry that are right next door.  As hard as it is for adults to remember the needy of the season, it is even harder for children.  When Herbert Hoover headed the United States Food Administration, he undertook a nation-wide public relations campaign to get all Americans to realize the dire need for food in war-ravaged Europe.  As Food Administration posters asserted, “NO ONE NEED BE HUNGRY.”  By eating less wheat bread, sugar, meats, and fats, Americans could meet the need of supplying food to the needy abroad.  He also encouraged a “clean plate club” where children were asked to eat everything on their plate so that no food was wasted.

The promotion soon began to be parodied as witnessed by the following ditty:

My Tuesdays are meatless,

My Wednesdays are wheatless,

I’m getting more eatless each day.

My home,–it is heatless,

My bed,–it is sheetless,

They’re sent to the YMCA.

The bar rooms are treatless,

The coffee is sweetless,

To-day I grow poorer and wiser.

My stockings are feetless,

My trousers are seatless,

My God! How I do hate the Kaiser.

Lou Henry Hoover was a tireless advocate of food conservation and the goals of the Food Administration.  News reporters were particularly interested to see if the Hoover family was living according to the strict standards of food economy set by Herbert Hoover and the US Food Administration.  They were disappointed to learn that Lou did not stray from the strict standards.  Moreover, Lou was more than amused to receive the published account of a young girl in Kansas.  It read: “A little four year old girl in Lawrence [Kansas] is rather delicate, and capricious and notional in her appetite.  Her parents were endeavoring to persuade her to eat the proper things, and in the proper quantities.  If she called for white bread they quoted Mr. Hoover.  When she did not eat all that was on her plate, they invoked Mr. Hoover.  In fact, they worked Mr. Hoover to the limit.  Finally, one night, another difference of opinion arose, and appeal was again made to Mr. Hoover and his requirements.  The little girl had apparently reached the limit of her patience.  Turning to her mother, she said, ‘Mamma, is Mr. Hoover married? Yes, my dear.  Well, you don’t suppose Mrs. Hoover loves him, do you?’

Posted in Herbert Hoover | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Proclamations and President Hoover

by Matthew Schaefer

In addition to the White House tradition of spending Thanksgiving as a quiet day with the family, Herbert Hoover tended to the ceremonial aspect of his official duty by issuing a Thanksgiving Proclamation.  This tradition dates back to George Washington, and most Presidents hew to a predictable script—invoking forefathers, thanking God, and sharing pride in America.

Herbert Hoover stuck to this script.  His 1929 Thanksgiving Proclamation reads in part: ‘God had greatly blessed us as a nation in the year drawing to a close.  The earth has yielded an abundant harvest in most parts of our country.  The fruits of industry have been of unexampled quantity and value.  Both capital and labor have enjoyed an exceptional prosperity.’

For Hoover, there is no mention of the Stock Market Crash, his recently convened Conference for Continued Industrial Progress, or the impact of a severe drought on several states.  This is not surprising given that Hoover was acutely aware of the power of his words from the bully pulpit of the Presidency; a discouraging word from him might do serious harm to economic recovery.  He knew that he was bound by the weight of his office to speak of blue skies and sunny prospects.

Hoover offered similar platitudes in ensuing Thanksgiving proclamations despite worsening conditions as America slid deeper into the abyss of the Great Depression.  Others, unburdened by office, respectfully requested that the usual Thanksgiving proclamation not be issued.  Woolsey Teller, of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, offered three reasons: Drought-‘’Parched fields are no call for thanks.’ Unemployment-‘Jobless workers are not at fault; to ask them in these hard times to be thankful is to add insult to injury.’ Separation of Church and State-citing Thomas Jefferson’s precedent in refusing to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation.

Others called for doubling down on prayer and penitence.  Some importuned Hoover to make Thanksgiving a national day of humiliation, humbling man before a wrathful God.  In 1931, the Federation of Reformed Men’s Societies of the West asked that the customary proclamation be: ‘a call for acknowledgment of our national sins and to pray for the removal of the widespread economic depression in our country.’

Hoover heeded neither side, choosing his own path.  His Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1931 closely paralleled the 1929 and 1930 versions in style and substance, thanking the Almighty for abundant harvests, good health, and enriched lives.  In a nod to the gloomy economy, Hoover noted: ‘The measure of passing adversity which has come upon us should deepen the spiritual life of the people, quicken their sympathies and spirit of sacrifice for others, and strengthen their courage.’

Posted in Herbert Hoover | Tagged | Leave a comment

President Hoover and Football

by Matthew Schaefer

Stanford Football team, 1894, Herbert Hoover is in the coat and tie in the back row. He was the manager.

Stanford Football team, 1894, Herbert Hoover is in the coat and tie in the back row. He was the manager.

Somehow, I’ve written more than once about Herbert Hoover and football without consulting the two folders on ‘Football, 1929-1932’ in Hoover’s Presidential Subject Files.   This is written in order to rectify that oversight.  These files contain a letter dated December 5, 1931 from Mrs. Helen MacLean to President Hoover.  Mrs. MacLean explained in this lengthy letter that, as the mother of two boys intent on playing football, she felt compelled to write.  She beseeches Hoover: ‘Will you do what you can to bring the game to a sane and safer level?  For it seems to me that football has become more of a war than a game.’

MacLean invoked the actions of President Theodore Roosevelt, who found it necessary to intervene in 1905 to reduce the violence of football in order to forestall dangerous injuries and death.  MacLean credited Roosevelt’s efforts for making football temporarily safer, ‘but the evils abolished at that time have returned since, it seems, cruel in a more scientific and diabolical form.’  She closed: ‘Do not wait for a letter from another mother whose son has been sacrificed on the altar of this so-called sport.’

To add weight to her argument, Mrs. MacLean enclosed an editorial ‘Stop These Football Tragedies’ from the December 4, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.  Looking at a collegiate football season marred by scores of serious injuries and a handful of deaths, the editorial called for rules modifications to make the game safer once again.  The author pointed to improved equipment, specifically harder helmets and shoulder pads, combined with the increased speed of the game as leading to calamitous injuries.  To further drive this point home, the editorial was illustrated by a political cartoon titled ‘All-Time All-American’ showing Death looming over a football field.

One of Hoover’s secretaries quickly replied to Helen MacLean: ‘Your letter has been received.  I shall bring it to the attention of the President.’  The letter did not appear to alter Hoover’s thinking on football.  Among the later correspondence in the folder are complimentary tickets offered to Hoover by Dartmouth College for games in the 1932 football season.  This included late October matchups against Ivy League powerhouses Harvard and Yale.  Hoover did not attend these games.  He was otherwise engaged with Presidential duties and his campaign.

Posted in Herbert Hoover | Tagged | Leave a comment

What Will Be Your Legacy?

This piece was written by George Schaefer, for use at a corporate retreat with the theme ‘Building a Legacy of Success.’  He used this story to convey what it takes to create and sustain a legacy.  It is used here with his permission.

President and Mrs. Hoover photographed in the rear of a train that they traveled in.

President and Mrs. Hoover photographed in the rear of a train that they traveled in.

This is a story about a man named Bert.  It is a story of how he achieved success in business, earned vast wealth, held positions of power and led extraordinary humanitarian efforts whose impact resulted in a legacy that is still felt today, decades after his death, all across the globe.  It is a story about seeing beyond barriers, identifying opportunities, taking risks, and creating substantive value where those who went before you saw only a wasteland.  Finally, it is a story about making sure that the legacy you leave is large—very large—lest it be forgotten.

Bert enjoyed an unremarkable childhood until he was orphaned at age nine, and was then forced to live among strangers 1,500 miles away.  When he turned 18, he received his share of his parents’ estate.  His inheritance, their legacy, was nowhere near enough to pay for the college of his choice, Stanford University.  Bert wasn’t discouraged.  He wasn’t afraid of work.

So Bert worked, at dozens of menial low-paying jobs, while he attended classes.  After graduating from Stanford with a degree in geology, his first job was as a pick and shovel miner paid the princely sum of $2 a day.  Bert was thrilled with opportunity to work in his chosen field, learning from ground up [or from beneath the ground up].

Bert’s first break came two years later when, at 23, he was recommended to interview in London for a position as ‘a mining engineer, at least 35 years old, with 10 years’ experience.’  Despite his lack of qualifications, Bert went to London (growing a beard en route to look older), interviewed well, and was hired to run a mine in Western Australia.  Life in the outback was miserable; he was surrounded by red dust, black flies and white heat.  Perth was the last outpost of civilization in Western Australia, and Bert was 200 miles from Perth.

In Australia, Bert was relentless in seeking new opportunities, traveling hundreds of miles across the desert to ever more remote locations, scouting for new mines.  During one such excursion, he found a gold mine for sale.  The owners had mined the gold nearest the surface and concluded that what remained would not be profitable.  Drawing on his Stanford training, Bert surveyed the site and came to a far different conclusion.  He surmised that there was still gold to be mined, but that it was deep underground.  To reach it, someone had to be willing to move tons of rock to get the gold.  He cabled London with his recommendation to purchase the ‘tapped out’ mine, staking his reputation on the assertion that the mine would fully return the investment within one year, then continue to produce gold. At that time, the life span of a gold mine was measured in weeks or months, not years.  Ignoring conventional wisdom, his company agreed to Bert’s recommendation and bought the mine.

The gold mine Bert discovered proved to be an enormous success.  It returned the company’s investment within 8 months, and the mine was productive, not for 70 weeks or 70 months, but for 70 years.  Not surprisingly, Bert’s company quickly escalated his duties, sending him to oversee mines in China, Burma, South Africa and Russia.  By the time he was 30, Bert was the highest paid employee in the world. By age 35, he was a partner of a company with 135,000 employees worldwide.  By 40, he was the richest self-made man of his time.

If the story were to end here, we might all agree that Bert had created a noteworthy legacy.  But Bert was just beginning.  At age 40, at the peak of his career, Bert chose to ‘retire’ from the game of making money and to devote his energies to public service.  By age 45, he was widely acclaimed as one of the most accomplished men in America.  When Harding became President, he offered Bert his choice of Cabinet posts.  Bert chose to serve as Secretary of Commerce.  Here he fundamentally re-invented a Federal government agency, transforming Commerce into an engine to create jobs, growth and prosperity.  While serving as Secretary, Bert also built a coalition to bring water, flood control and electricity to the American Southwest.  Without his administrative skills, Los Angeles might be a city of less than one million and Las Vegas would be little more than a wide spot on a desert road.

In his later life, Bert headed a panel to reorganize the executive branch of Federal government, working to reduce bureaucracy. He spearheaded fund-raising for the Boys’ Clubs of America in an effort to reduce juvenile delinquency.  He wrote more than forty books, scores of articles, and hundreds of speeches.  The list of legacy accomplishments is lengthy.  In short, Bert was a man who got things done. However, deep as we are into the sketch, we haven’t addressed the two things that most defined Bert’s public service legacy.  One was unsuccessful, and is remembered well.  The other was spectacularly successful, yet is largely forgotten.

Bert’s memorable unsuccessful public service was as the 31st President of the United States.  He had been in the White House for six months when the stock market crashed in October 1929.  The ensuing Great Depression has been permanently merged with Herbert Hoover’s legacy.  He is seen as one of the worst Presidents in history.  His Administration was said to be unsympathetic to the suffering of millions who lost their jobs, homes and farms, and who faced hunger and privation.  At what could have been the pinnacle of his public service career, Bert was vilified.  He became a pariah.  Even after he left office, members of his own party would meet with him, but refused to be photographed with him.  How could such a capable man come to be regarded as insensitive and cold-hearted?  It can only be ascribed to bad timing, especially when weighed against his other, largely forgotten, public service.

Bert was in London when World War I erupted in 1914.  It was here that he had a conversation that literally changed the rest of his life, and the lives of millions.  The American ambassador told Bert that a human tragedy of unprecedented magnitude was about to unfold in Belgium, where the opposing armies were entrenched in brutal warfare.  It was late fall.  The crops had either been burned or appropriated by the occupying armies.  There was no local economy.  7 million Belgians (and 3 million civilians in northern France) faced a winter of want, famine and starvation.  Bert listened carefully, and then said three words that spoke volumes about the man: ‘Can I help?’

Bert organized the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB).  The CRB quickly became the largest food relief effort in history.  Hoover oversaw fund-raising, the logistics of buying food, arranging shipment, negotiating safe passage and distributing food to the 10 million.  He did this as a private citizen from a neutral nation.   When American entered the war in 1917, he returned stateside to lead the United States Food Administration (USFA).  Bert knew that food would win the war.  As head of the USFA, he doubled American export of food to Europe between 1917 and 1918.  This food proved pivotal to victory.  When the war ended, the humanitarian crisis did not, as tens of millions of Germans, East Europeans and Russians faced starvation.  Bert fed them as well, saying: ‘Hunger does not recognize politics.’  After the war, for the second time in his life, he led the largest food relief effort in history.

Incredibly, Bert was called upon to replicate his food relief efforts thirty years later, in the wake of World War II.  At age 70, he responded magnificently, once again organizing relief efforts and delivering food to hundreds of millions in Europe, Africa and Asia.  For the third time in his life, Bert was part of the largest food relief effort to that time.  These humanitarian efforts clearly Bert Hoover’s most enduring legacy, one that deserves to be remembered.

George Schaefer closed out his presentation by reiterating the lessons to be drawn from Herbert Hoover’s story:

  1. See the big picture and see beyond the barriers. Imagine how different Bert’s legacy would be had he not been willing to travel to London for an interview almost certain to end in failure.
  2. Trust your instincts and recognize the real treasure lies deep underground Image how different Bert’s legacy would be had he not accepted the risks in digging deeper in a ‘tapped out’ mine.
  3. Go with what works for you, but make sure it works. Imagine how different Bert’s legacy would be had he not managed to transfer his genius for logistics to the new challenge of food relief.
  4. Resolve to be a builder and expect the best. Imagine how different Bert’s legacy would be had he not fought to create the CRB, a piratical state for benevolence unlike anything previously conceived, let alone built.
  5. Make the most of your dash. Bert’s grave is marked by a simple slab, reading only: ‘Herbert Hoover, 1874-1964’ with the dash between his birth year and death year standing for all the deeds of his life.  As Bert said himself: ’There is nothing more to a man’s legacy than the accomplishments he leaves behind.’  What will be your legacy?
Posted in Herbert Hoover, Humanitarian, Mining Engineer, Presidency | Leave a comment

Herbert Hoover on the Importance of Voting

by Matthew Schaefer

Herbert Hoover casting his ballot in Palo Alto, CA 11/8/1932

Herbert Hoover casting his ballot in Palo Alto, CA 11/8/1932

Sometimes history loops back on itself and offers timely advice for the present and for the future.  In a reply to a press inquiry, October 5, 1953, former President Herbert Hoover offered advice that needs no further comment:

‘The weakest link in the whole chain of protections to liberty is the vote.  Other protections can be provided by law and officials designated to look after them.  The first step in protection of representative government is the vote.  But the act is voluntary.  If people do not go to the polls, freedom will die at its roots.

It is always a mystery to me why at every election there must be urging by a thousand voices: ‘Go to the Polls.’  Either our people must be absent minded or not concerned with their own safety.  You may be sure that every fellow with an ‘ism’ or a wild ‘do-not-like’ will be there.  If you want to neutralize him, then go and vote.’

Posted in Herbert Hoover | Tagged | Leave a comment