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Herbert Hoover

U.S. Food Administrator/U.S. President

Centurion, 1919–1964

Full Name Herbert Clark Hoover

Born 10 August 1874 in West Branch, Iowa

Died 20 October 1964 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Buried Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, West Branch, Iowa

Proposed by Joseph P. Cotton and Graham Lusk

Elected 7 June 1919 at age forty-four

Proposer of:

Century Memorials

Eight presidents of the United States have been Centurions, but none has been elected to The Century during his administration. Herbert Hoover was no exception; he became one of us in 1919 when no one dreamed that he would have an even greater honor conferred upon him in the course of an uncommon career already started. His Commission for Relief in Belgium had fed some ten million people, many of whom would otherwise have starved, and, after the United States had entered the war, he had been American Food Administrator. He had done these things against strong opposition, some of it even from his own countrymen; the immense scale of the commission’s operations roused suspicion by allies as well as enemies, but he had overcome all obstacles, largely by his personal persuasiveness. So when, soon after New Year’s, 1919, he was proposed for membership in The Century, he was being thanked by millions of suffering people all over the world. Most of mankind had felt compassion, but Hoover alone had had the skill and strength to implement it.

His postwar work was carried on by the American Relief Commission of which he had been appointed chairman and which had its headquarters in Paris. Here, he answered the pleas of twenty-two countries for aid. These included the former enemies, now defeated, and Russia, a former ally which had left the war in 1917. The difficulty of conducting his operations was aggravated by the chaos of currency fluctuations and attempts at price controls. Added to Hoover’s administrative work, therefore, were the complications of international politics, the need for constant diplomacy in the overcoming of national prejudice, for thwarting the impulses of greed and corruption, and the cutting of masses of red tape. Through all this uncertain time, he gave his thought and energy without compensation. The men of his staff, many of them Centurions, gave him unqualified praise, not only for his highly efficient administration but for the sympathetic direction of his subordinates.

Herbert Clark Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa, in 1874. His father was a Quaker blacksmith. By the time the boy was nine, he was an orphan. His first job was as an office boy at ten. By 1891, he had earned and saved enough to put himself through college. He entered Stanford University in California in that year and took his degree—A.B. in engineering—in 1895. On his graduation he undertook professional work as a mining engineer not only in the United States but in many foreign countries, including Russia, China, and Australia. This occupied him until 1913 when he represented the Panama-Pacific Exposition in Europe. When the First World War broke out in 1914, he organized the American Relief Commission in London and directed the evacuation of some 200,000 Americans from Europe. From this year, the direction of his life changed; he became an internationally recognized expert in massive relief. President Harding appointed him Secretary of Commerce in 1921, and he was reappointed by President Coolidge.

In 1928, he defeated Alfred Smith in the presidential election, and he took office in March, 1929, when the financial boom was in full swing. In October of that year, the crash in the stock market began the Great Depression for which President Hoover, by a cruel turn in public opinion, was held largely responsible. This was the tragedy of Hoover’s life, and he bitterly resented what historians have come to believe was a total injustice. Nevertheless, the accusation must be held accountable when he lost the election to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

A Centurion friend has contributed this memory:

“A number of years ago, Mr. Herbert Hoover told me of his first visit to The Century when he was introduced as a guest by Clarence King, the geologist, who had been a member since 1874. Mr. Hoover’s book Principles of Mining had been published in 1909 and his translation of Agricola’s De Re Metallica from the first Latin edition—done with the help of Mrs. Hoover—was published in 1912. . . . Mr. Hoover, who must have been in his late twenties, spoke of the honor of being in the Club and wondered if he might ever belong.”

On Hoover’s death at ninety, Centurion Lewis Strauss said over the National Broadcasting Company’s network:

“When a great tree falls we are amazed to see how meagre the landscape seems without it. So it is when a great man dies. . . . Millions are bereaved by the death of this good man—not alone we his fellow citizens whom he served with wisdom and honor and joy but other millions who owe to him their very lives. . . .”

So it is more fitting to thank Herbert Hoover than to mourn him. We are grateful for his long presence among us and for his solace to a troubled world.

Roger Burlingame
1965 Century Association Yearbook

Hoover was born in Iowa, where he spent his first nine years before moving to Oregon. He entered Stanford University in 1891, the first year of the new college. Hoover claimed to be the first student ever at Stanford, by virtue of having been the first person in the first class to sleep in the dormitory. He graduated in 1895 as a mining engineer.

Hoover married his Stanford sweetheart, Lou Henry, in 1899 and they had two sons, Herbert Charles Hoover and Allan Henry Hoover. In 1908, he became an independent mining consultant, traveling worldwide until the outbreak of World War I. While he was in London, Germany declared war on France, and the American Consul General asked his help in getting stranded tourists home. In six weeks his committee helped 120,000 Americans return to the United States.

President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover head of the Food Administration after the U.S. entered the war. Following the Armistice, Hoover organized shipments of food for starving millions in central Europe, and he extended aid to famine-stricken Soviet Russia. When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, “Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!”

After serving as Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Hoover became the Republican Presidential nominee in 1928 when Coolidge declined to run. Upon election, Hoover seemed particularly partial towards fellow Centurions: his Secretary of the Interior was Ray Lymon Wilbur; his Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon, and Secretary of Commerce, Robert Lamont, became members while serving in Washington. His Chief Justice was Charles Evans Hughes, with Associate Justices Harlan Stone and Edward T. Sanford. In 1932, Hoover appointed Benjamin N. Cardozo to the Court.

Within months of Hoover’s election the stock market crashed. In 1931, repercussions from Europe deepened the crisis and the President became the scapegoat for the Depression. He was badly defeated by Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. In the years that followed, Hoover wrote many books, one of which he was working on when he died at 90 in New York City, a Centurion for six decades.

James Charlton
“Centurions on Stamps,” Part I (Exhibition, 2010)