The American president in the crucial years between 1929 and 1933, Republican Herbert Clark Hoover was born on August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa, to Jesse and Hulda Hoover. He received his secondary education in Newberg, Oregon, and graduated with a degree in geology from Stanford University in 1895.
In 1899 he became the chief engineer for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Company. For more than a decade he worked on engineering projects in Europe and Asia, eventually becoming a consultant for mining companies throughout the world.
When World War I broke out, Hoover was in a unique position. His career had made him wealthy, and his position as head of the American Repatriation Committee in London had him assisting U.S. citizens in their return home to avoid the war.
Hoover became dedicated to charity and helped the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which sent food to about 10 million people in war zones. Back in the U.S., he became food administrator under President Woodrow Wilson (1913–21) after the U.S. entry into the war in April 1917.
The Food Administration, set up under the Lever Act in August 1917, supervised the distribution of U.S. agricultural products both inside the United States and to the Allies. He encouraged voluntary conservation with slogans like "meatless Mondays" and "wheatless Wednesdays" and encouraged the production of basic foodstuffs like wheat, the acreage of which nearly doubled between 1917 and 1919.
Under the direction of Hoover, the United States tripled its exports of meat, bread, and sugar in 1918. The end of the war brought famine to Europe, and Hoover provided relief, surplus food, and clothing to about 200 million people. These relief efforts gave Hoover increased personal political power; his humanitarianism made him greatly admired.
Hoover was secretary of commerce under both Warren G. Harding (1921–23) and Calvin Coolidge (1923–29) and also served as a member of the Advisory Committee and World War Foreign Debt Commission.
His dedication to charity and relief works put him in a position to aid the victims of the great Mississippi flood of 1927. Because of his popularity and reputation, he was the most suitable choice for the Republicans as the presidential candidate in the election of 1928 and was nominated by the party on the first ballot.
Hoover won the election easiliy with the promise of increased efficiency and prosperity. At his inauguration on March 4, 1929, he spoke about building a new economic, social, and political system based on equality of opportunity for the American people.
Once in office, Hoover attempted to live up to his campaign pledge starting with the Agricultural Marketing Act in mid-1929, which set up the Federal Farm Board. The function of the board was to stabilize the prices of agricultural products, but following the stock market crash, it became a fund for emergency agricultural relief.
Other legislative acts of Hoover included the establishment of a $50.00 monthly pension for Americans over 65, the building of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, and the cancellation of private oil leases on government lands. Hoover also approved the act that made the "Star-Spangled Banner" the American national anthem.
Militarily, under Hoover the United States participated in the London Naval Conference of 1930, which limited the size and number of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines allowed to the major powers. When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, the response of Hoover and the United States was isolationist, a philosophy much in keeping with the times of the Great Depression.
Hoover's secretary of state, Henry L. Stimson (1867–1950), opposed the isolationist stance and developed the Stimson Doctrine, which stated that the United States would not recognize changes (such as Japan's conquering of Manchuria) that had been made in violation of treaties. Maintaining his isolationist stance, Hoover believed that the doctrine would cause an economic boycott against Japan and did not endorse the policy.
Early in Hoover's tenure as president, the October 1929 crash of Wall Street caused the most widespread and prolonged depression in world history. The depression, triggered by the October 29 crash, encompassed the prices of goods, employment, and the production of new goods.
By mid-November, the average stock price had fallen to 40 percent of its previous value, while money supplies and prices of goods fell by a third. This problem was intensified as across the country bank depositors withdrew their funds, causing widespread failure of the banking system. Across the country and the world, people lost their jobs and their savings. Businesses lost nearly 50 percent of their income.
In the face of such hardship, the optimism embodied by Hoover's presidential campaign withered. His own dedication to voluntarism and personal cooperation instead of government programs and intervention proved to be no help in the face of economic catastrophe. In an effort to safeguard American businesses, Congress passed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Bill in 1930, increasing the import duties on 20,000 items.
The Reconstruction Finance Corporation, set up by Congress in 1932, provided loans for troubled banks and businesses as well as funds for states to provide relief at the local level. Hoover also increased spending on public works, asking Congress for an additional $400 million in the Federal Building Program. Hoover also attempted to aid relief of the depression in Europe by placing a moratorium on war debt payments, but the measure was ineffective in halting the collapse of the world economy.
On the home front, nothing Hoover tried proved effective. The Revenue Act of 1932 was passed, increasing taxes to meet the government's expenditures. In mid-1932, Hoover was further embarassed by the Bonus Army; nearly 20,000 war veterans marched on the White House in June, demanding a bonus due in 1945. The veterans were dispersed by military action led by Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur.
Thanks to the troubles of the country, Hoover's early popularity had been destroyed, and he became a symbol of U.S. failure to deal with the economic troubles. Despite this, he was nominated for a second term in the 1932 election. It surprised no one when Hoover lost in a landslide to Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945).
Roosevelt was elected on a platform of vehement criticism of Hoover and his policies that had resulted in runaway national debt and ineffective spending. Roosevelt squarely laid the blame for the Depression on Republican policy. He did not believe, like Hoover, that it had international origin.
In retrospect, Hoover's downfall as president seems more bad luck than anything else; he became the scapegoat for economic depression that occurred eight months after the beginning of his term as president and that he almost certainly didn't cause.
However, his attempted relief policies failed, for which he was rightly blamed. A great humanitarian and relief worker, Hoover's failure to provide any relief to the Amerian people ultimately forced the end of his tenure as president. After leaving the White House, Hoover worked as a trustee of Stanford University.
He was also involved in famine relief in Europe at the time of World War II. Hoover was the chairperson of the commission dealing with the reorganization of executive departments. He died in New York on October 20, 1964.