Herbert Hoover, the son of a Quaker, was born in West Branch, Iowa, on 10th August, 1874. Orphaned as a child, he was brought up his uncle in Oregon. Hoover attended Stanford University and graduated as a mining engineer in 1895.
Hoover worked on industrial projects in several countries and on the outbreak of the First World War was in London. Hoover was made head of American Relief Commission (1914-15) and chairman of the American Relief Commission for Relief in Belgium (1915-19). When the United States entered the war in 1917, Woodrow Wilson used Hoover's experience by making him as national food administrator. This gave him responsibility for distributing 18,500,000 tons of food to the Allies.
In 1920 Warren Harding appointed Hoover as his Secretary of Commerce. Over the next seven years Hoover was associated with the successful growth in the American economy. Companies in the United States began to make full use of what became known as mass production. This increase in output enabled America to produce items that were cheaper than those manufactured by her European competitors. Inflation remained low while incomes increased by an average of 35% during this period.
When Calvin Coolidge decided not to run in 1928, Hoover won the Republican Party nomination. The Wall Street Crash in October 1929, created the worst depression in American history. Hoover was slow to provide federal relief to farmers and stubbornly refused to give help to the unemployed in urban areas. Hoover vetoed a bill that would have created a federal unemployment agency and also opposed a plan to create a public works programme.
Many American veterans of the First World War found it difficult to find work. An increasing number came to the conclusion that the money would be more useful to them in this time of need than when the bonus was due. Congress had voted veterans $3,500,000,000, however, this was to be spread over 20 years. In May 1932, 10,000 of these ex-soldiers marched on Washington in an attempt to persuade Congress to grant immediate payment of the bonus. When they arrived in Washington the Bonus Marchers camped at Anacostia Flats, an area that had formerly been used as an army recruiting centre. Hoover's unpopularity increased when on 28th July, Hoover gave orders for the camp to be cleared by troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. This created a great deal of controversy and The Washington News reported: "What a pitiful spectacle is that of the great American government, mightiest in the world, chasing unarmed men, women and children with army tanks." MacArthur responded by claiming that the marchers were "a mob... animated by the essence of revolution".
Andrew Mellon was Hoover's secretary of the treasury. Mellon followed policies that involved cutting income tax rates and reducing public spending. He also brought an end to the excess profits tax. Mellon's policies created a great deal of controversy and he was accused of following policies that favoured the wealthy. The economic depression that began in 1929 was partly blamed on Mellon's policies.
The Democratic Party selected Franklin D. Roosevelt as their 1932 presidential candidate. William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963): "Liberal Democrats were somewhat uneasy about Roosevelt's reputation as a trimmer, and disturbed by the vagueness of his formulas for recovery, but no other serious candidate had such good claims on progressive support. as governor of New York, he had created the first comprehensive system of unemployment relief, sponsored an extensive program for industrial welfare, and won western progressives by expanding the work Al Smith had begun in conservation and public power."
Roosevelt attacked Hoover for over-spending. In September 1932, Roosevelt made a speech at Souix City where he argued: "I accuse the present Administration of being the greatest spending Administration in peace times in all our history. It is an Administration that has piled bureau on bureau, commission on commission, and has failed to anticipate the dire needs and the reduced earning power of the people." The following month he declared in Pittsburgh: "I regard reduction in Federal spending as one of the most important issues of this campaign. In my opinion, it is the most direct and effective contribution that Government can make to business." One of Roosevelt's supporters, Marriner Eccles, admitted: "Given later developments, the campaign speeches often read like a giant misprint, in which Roosevelt and Hoover speak each other's lines."
In October 1932, Hoover criticised those who believed that the government could be doing more to bring a reduction in unemployment: "At first I could not believe that anyone would be so cruel as to hold out hope so absolutely impossible of realization to these 10,000,000 who are unemployed. And I protest against such frivolous promises being held out to a suffering people. If it were possible to give this employment to 10,000,000 people by the Government, it would cost upwards of $9,000,000,000 a year. It would pull down the employment of those who are still at work by the high taxes and the demoralization of credit upon which their employment is dependent. It would mean the growth of a fearful bureaucracy which, once established, could never be dislodged."
Charlie Chaplin commented: "The lugubrious Hoover sat and sulked, because his disastrous economic sophistry of allocating money at the top in the belief that it would percolate down to the common people had failed. And amidst all this tragedy he ranted in the election campaign that if Franklin Roosevelt got into office the very foundations of the American system - not an infallible system at that moment - would be imperilled."
During the 1932 Presidential Election, Hoover argued that the role of government was one of an "umpire" rather than "player". He believed that America owed its financial prosperity in the 1920s to this "non-interference" policy and it was just a matter of time before natural economic forces would bring about a revival of trade. Hoover's arguments were not accepted by the American people and he was easily defeated by his Democratic opponent, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
William E. Leuchtenburg, the author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal (1963), has argued: "Franklin Roosevelt swept to victory with 22,800,000 votes to Hoover's 15,750,000. With a 472-59 margin in the Electoral College, he captured every state south and west of Pennsylvania. Roosevelt carried more counties than a presidential candidate had ever won before, including 282 that had never gone Democratic. Of the forty states in Hoover's victory coalition four years before, the President held but six."
Out of power, Hoover opposed Roosevelt's New Deal programme. He told the New York Times on 31st October, 1936: "I rejected the schemes of economic planning to regiment and coerce the farmer. That was born of a Roman despot 1400 years ago and grew into the AAA. I refused national plans to put government into business in competition with its citizens. That was born of Karl Marx. I vetoed the idea of recovery through stupendous spending to prime the pump. That was born of a British Professor (John Maynard Keynes)."
In 1936, Hoover attempted to obtain the Republican presidential nomination. However, Alf Landon was selected instead. In 1938 Hoover visited ten European countries and despite the aggressive foreign policy of Adolf Hitler he stated on his return: "I do not believe a widespread war is at all probable in the near future. There is a general realization everywhere ... that civilization as we know it cannot survive another great war."
After the Second World War, Hoover was involved in several American relief operations in Europe. He wrote The Basis for Lasting Peace (1945) and several volumes of autobiography. Freedom Betrayed, an attack on the statesmanship of Franklin D. Roosevelt, began during the Second World War, was published after his death.
Herbert Hoover died following massive internal bleeding at the age of 90 on 20th October, 1964.