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Herbert Hoover – The 31st President During the Great Depression

Full Name Herbert Clark Hoover
Born August 10, 1874 in West Branch, Iowa
Died October 20, 1964 in New York City (age 90)
Parents Jesse and Hulda Hoover
Wife Lou Henry (married 1899-1944, her death)
Children 2 sons
Education Stanford University (geology)
Profession Engineer, businessman, humanitarian
Political Party Republican
Presidency 1929-1933 (31st president)

Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of the United States, serving during the onset of the Great Depression from 1929 to 1933. As a Republican president, he believed in small government but was unable to turn the tide of the worsening economy with his voluntary programs and indirect approach.

Early Life and Engineering Career

Herbert Clark Hoover was born on August 10, 1874 in West Branch, Iowa. After his father‘s death when Hoover was 6, his mother Hulda raised him and his siblings as a devout Quaker. Hoover worked on their farm but showed great intelligence in school. He earned an engineering degree from Stanford University in 1895.

As a mining engineer, Hoover traveled the world, living in Australia and China and amassing a small fortune by his mid-20s. "Engineering is a great profession. There is the fascination of watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper. Then it moves to realization in stone or metal or energy," Hoover later said about his early career.

Leading Humanitarian Efforts

When World War I began in 1914, Hoover spearheaded the return of 120,000 Americans from war-torn Europe. This established his reputation as a humanitarian. President Wilson appointed Hoover to lead the Food Administration, responsible for supplying the U.S. army and its allies with food during the war.

"I did not realize it at the moment, but on August 3, 1914, my career in public life began," Hoover later said, referencing Wilson‘s appointment of him. Through his humanitarian efforts, Hoover likely helped save millions from starvation.

Dynamic Leadership as Secretary of Commerce

Under Presidents Harding and Coolidge in the 1920s, Hoover served as a popular Secretary of Commerce. He took on a diverse range of responsibilities including environmental conservation, aviation regulation, and radio licensing. Hoover was an active and visible cabinet member, cutting government spending, promoting trade associations, and holding conferences.

"We shall soon with the idealism of youth abandon the last vestiges of an unscientific price system, the archaic type of competition between production groups. Having assumed that evil is poverty, we shall banish poverty," Hoover ambitiously wrote in 1922 about the future.

Winning the 1928 Presidential Election

Riding a wave of economic prosperity and his own prominence, Hoover won the 1928 election in a landslide over Democrat Al Smith. Hoover campaigned on continuing Republican economic policies, while Smith‘s Catholicism and opposition to Prohibition hurt him among many Protestant voters.

"We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land," Hoover said in his 1928 acceptance speech, unaware of the crisis to come.

The Great Depression‘s Onset and Hoover‘s Response

Within months of Hoover‘s inauguration, the stock market crashed in October 1929, plunging the nation into the Great Depression. As unprecedented economic disaster struck, Hoover insisted on limited government intervention, calling for voluntary efforts by businesses and citizens instead.

"Economic depression cannot be cured by legislative action or executive pronouncement," Hoover proclaimed, adhering to his principles of self-reliance. But his indirect approach failed to fix the spiraling crisis. Shantytowns for the homeless around the country even began being called "Hoovervilles."

Re-election Defeat and Retirement

The American public blamed Hoover for not taking more direct federal action to combat the Great Depression. In the 1932 election, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked Hoover‘s policies and won in a historic landslide. "In the months before Roosevelt took office, the nightly ranks of homeless grew as the dispossessed sought warmth in the streets," one historian wrote.

In retirement, Hoover criticized Roosevelt‘s New Deal expansion of government. But with the onset of World War II he returned to public service, leading humanitarian efforts again under President Truman. Hoover died at age 90 in 1964 in New York City.