Herbert Hoover 31st President, 1929-1933

Birthplace, West Branch, Iowa
In 1871, Jesse Hoover built this two-room cottage near his blacksmith shop and moved in with his wife, Hulda, and young son Theodore. Herbert Hoover was born there on August 10, 1874, the first President born west of the Mississippi River. When “Bert” was two, his sister, Mary, was born. This was the Hoover’s first home, and although it was small it served the young family well. During the warm months, the cook-stove was moved to the back porch, which became a summer kitchen. In 1879, as Jesse prospered, the family moved to a larger, two-story house about one block south. That home is no longer standing, but a plaque marks its location.

Jesse Hoover sold the Birthplace Cottage in 1879 and it passed through several hands. The Scellers family, who owned in it 1890, turned it 90 degrees and attached it to a two-story house which they had moved onto the site. In the 1920′s and early 1930′s Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of the president, attempted to purchase the house from Mrs. Jennie Scellers, but Mrs. Scellers declined to sell. The “Hoover House Hostess” as Mrs. Scellers was known, made a comfortable income during those years by charging the thousands of tourists she showed through the President’s birthplace 10 cents each. After Mrs. Scellers died in 1934, the Hoovers purchased the house from her heirs.

After restoring the Cottage and providing for its upkeep, the Hoover family proposed organizing an association to have custody of the Birthplace. The Herbert Hoover Birthplace Society was founded in 1939. One of the Articles of Incorporation stated, “The object of this corporation shall be to acquire, take care of and preserve the cottage and its surrounding grounds.” Today the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association fosters the collection, interpretation and preservation of historical resources relating to the life, ideas, values, and times of Herbert Hoover. On August 12, 1965, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site was authorized to “preserve in public ownership historically significant properties associated with the life of Herbert Hoover.”

Friends Meetinghouse and Schoolhouse, West Branch, Iowa
This Meetinghouse, built by the Society of Friends in 1857, is where the Hoover family worshipped. The values of the Quaker faith expressed by his parents and the community played an important role in shaping Herbert Hoover’s life. The desire for education, a solid work ethic, the recognition of the duty to help those in need, and a belief in the equality of all people were fundamental to his character.

The Quakers did not have a paid minister nor did they use music, symbols or sacraments in their worship. Instead, they worshipped in silence as they waited for the “Inward Light’ to illumine their lives. At times members were moved to stand and share their insights or prayers. Those known for their inspired messages became recorded ministers. Herbert’s mother Hulda was very active in the West Branch Meeting and was recognized as a recorded minister.

Friends Schoolhouse, West Branch, Iowa
A leading concern of the Society of Friends or Quakers was providing education for their children, equally for boys and girls. This one-room schoolhouse was built in 1853 and served as both the community schoolhouse and Friends Meetinghouse for worship until a separate Meetinghouse was completed in 1857. In primary classes, Herbert learned basic subjects including arithmetic, spelling, reading, writing, and science. Herbert also came to admire Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose portraits hang on the schoolhouse walls.

Blacksmith Shop, West Branch, Iowa
Jesse Hoover, Herbert’s father, owned and operated a blacksmith shop similar to this one from 1871 to 1879. One of several blacksmiths in the community, Jesse advertised in the local newspaper that horse shoeing and repairing plows were his specialty.

A skilled and ambitious businessman, Jesse sold his blacksmith shop in 1879 and bought a larger farm implement store on Main Street where he sold pumps, wagons, barbed wire, and sewing machines. He successfully operated that shop until his death in December 1880. Though he died at age 34, in his short life he had provided an excellent example of the Quaker work ethic for his children.

“My recollection of my father is of necessity dim indeed, but I retain one vivid memento from this time. Playing barefoot around the blacksmith shop, I stepped on a chip of hot iron and carry the brand of Iowa on my foot to this day.” – Herbert Hoover

Boyhood Home, Hoover-Minthorn House, Newburg, Oregon
The Hoover-Minthorn House was built in 1881 by Jesse Edwards and is the first residence built and still standing in what is now Newberg, Oregon. For the years 1885-1889, the house was the home of Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States. The house is owned and operated by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of Oregon.

Architecturally, the house reflects Jesse Edwards, the Quaker entrepreneur. It is also very much an 1882 Willamette Valley vernacular house–an expression of rural taste, a less sophisticated country cousin of the grander houses being built in Portland. In overall design, the house is Italianate. Its eclecticism comes from other features–an example of fashion in the midst of change.

The furniture in President Hoover’s bedroom is the actual set he used as a boy. Other furnishings in the house were gathered from homes in the countryside around Newberg and from the Friends Pacific Academy.

Home, Washington, DC Beginning in 1920 the Hoover’s East Coast address was in Washington, a 22-room house stuffed with objects d’art from all over the world, including gold boxes, figurines and plaques from grateful Belgians. Herbert was serving as Secretary of Commerce in the Harding and Coolidge Administrations. The house was originally built for Major Thomas M. Gales, whose realty firm developed the Kalorama Heights section of Washington at the turn of the century.

Since Hoover hated to eat alone, working breakfasts were common, while dinner guests filled the house almost every night. After a long day’s work, Mr. Hoover would return for a family ritual: tall glasses of orange juice (this was Prohibition, after all) served on the back veranda. In the library was one of the millions of Hoover Home Cards blossoming across the American landscape in response to the Food Administration’s appeals for self-sacrifice. “Save fuel. Use wood when you can,” it read. On weekends the family picnicked in nearby Rock Creek Park, where “the Great Engineer” rounded up volunteers to build miniature dams. Then as always, he seemed incapable of doing nothing.

A 1920 New York Times poll ranked Hoover among the ten greatest living Americans. Many of his countrymen in both parties hoped he would succeed the broken Wilson in the White House. Among them: Hoover’s neighbor Franklin D. Roosevelt. “He is certainly a wonder, and I wish we could make him President of the United States,” wrote FDR. “There could not be a better one”.

Hoover himself told friends he hoped to make the GOP into a strongly progressive party, of the kind Theodore Roosevelt had in mind. But when Republican delegates assembled in Chicago that June the Old Guard had its way. Hoover’s cheering galleries were no match for the senatorial cabal that nominated one of its own, Warren G. Harding.

The Hoovers left the house after Herbert’s successful campaign for the Presidency in November 1928

Summer White House, Rapidan Camp, Virginia When Herbert Hoover was looking for a summer retreat from Washington, D.C., potential sites needed to have three characteristics: they had to be within 100 miles of the capital, be situated on a trout stream, and be at least 2,500 feet above sea level. In 1929, Hoover selected “Camp Hoover” (now a part of Shenandoah National Park) along the upper Rapidan River as his Summer White House.

In his widely quoted “Address at Madison Courthouse,” delivered on August 17, 1929, Hoover declared fishing to be an “excuse for return to the woods and streams with their retouch of the simpler life of the frontier from which every American springs.” Hoover described the retreat as a means to escape “the pneumatic hammer of public life.” He hosted numerous dignitaries at the camp. He discussed aviation with Charles Lindbergh and held an arms-control summit with British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. Winston Churchill also was among the camp’s visitors.

After he lost his re-election bid in 1932, Hoover turned over the property to the government with the understanding that future presidents could enjoy its use. But Franklin D. Roosevelt, paralyzed from the waist down with polio, found the camp difficult to navigate, and established the Shangri-La retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, the predecessor to Camp David.

The National Park Service is currently restoring Camp Hoover to its appearance in 1931. This was the time for which it was designated a National Historic Landmark and when the Hoovers used it as their Summer White House. When the restoration is completed, we’ll be better able to appreciate the same comfortable charm Mrs. Hoover envisioned when she designed their Summer White House. We’ll almost be able to smell the brook trout, baked potatoes, strong coffee, and thick steaks frying on the outdoor grill. We’ll be able to imagine cabinet members and dignitaries joining the President for a cigar under the rustic pots of colorful native flowers that used to hang from the eaves.

Library & Museum, West Branch, Iowa
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum was opened to the public on August 10,1962, Mr. Hoover’s 88th birthday. In the years since, more than 2.5 million visitors have toured the museum and more than 2,000 scholars from every state in the union and a dozen foreign countries have utilized the library’s seven million pages of documentary holdings. One significant result has been an increased understanding of the life and times of America’s 31st president, known around the world as the “Great Humanitarian.”

In recent years, the Library-Museum has been transformed into a nationally recognized center for the study of twentieth-century history and the American presidency. Beginning in 1988, it has sponsored major exhibits featuring personal memorabilia from every U.S. President and First Lady, a pioneering look at World War I, an unprecedented display of presidential gifts and exciting exhibits on the “Roaring Twenties,” the Civil War, and other subjects of broad public appeal.

Simultaneously, the Library had redoubled efforts to locate and collect documentation pertaining to the Hoover Era. In addition to the papers of Herbert Hoover, the manuscript holdings include those of Lewis Strauss, Gerald P. Nye, Felix Morley, Clark Mollenhoff, Robert E. Wood, Westbrook Pegler, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, among others. More that 150 collections make the Library an important center for the study of conservative journalistic thought, agricultural economics, famine relief, atomic energy, and governmental reorganization.

The Hoover Library-Museum has welcomed many distinguished visitors over the years, among them no fewer than seven American presidents: Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Reagan. Several First Ladies have visited the Library, including Mamie Eisenhower, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, and most recently, Rosalynn Carter in September 1990.

Continuing in this tradition, former President Ronald Reagan rededicated the Library on August 8,1992. At the end of a massive expansion and renovation project, the new Library-Museum has grown from 32,000 to 44,500 square feet. Ten thousand square feet are devoted to seven museum galleries telling Hoover’s fifty years of public service. Changing exhibits are displayed in the handsome William Quarton Gallery. The redesigned Library-Museum also includes a 180-seat auditorium, a multi-purpose room accommodating 60, a conference room that seats 30, and a private meeting room designed for 15 people. The $8-million facelift was very much a public-private partnership, with Washington supplying $5 million for bricks and mortar, supplementing some $3 million raised by the Hoover Presidential Library Association for new exhibits and educational programming.

Gravesite, West Branch, Iowa
Although Hoover denounced President Harry S. Truman’s dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan as an indefensible war measure (as well as the Korean War), Truman appointed him coordinator of the Food Supply for World Famine in 1946. He also advised the U.S. government on occupation policies in Germany and Austria.

Hoover performed with such dignity and efficiency that Truman named him chairman of the Commission on the Organization of the Executive Branch of Government, which became known in the press as the “Hoover Commission.” This appointment, and another to a second commission appointed by President Eisenhower, ran from 1947 to 1955. The two commissions made hundreds of recommendations for streamlining government, especially in the line of organization authority between the president and his staff. Most of these suggestions were adopted. Among the most important were those consolidating government functions into the new cabinet-level Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In the bitter political year of 1964, shortly before his death, Hoover endorsed Barry Goldwater for president, telling his associates that the conservative Arizona Republican Senator closely mirrored his own views on the need for limiting federal authority over everyday life and the American economy.

Hoover also was the author of thirty books, including The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, a study of Wilson’s failure to obtain Senate consent for the Treaty of Versailles. It was the first time one former president had ever written a biography of a predecessor. He died at the age of ninety on October 20, 1964. Among former presidents, only John Adams had lived longer.

President Hoover was laid to rest on a quiet knoll amongst 76-acres of tall grass in West Branch, Iowa on October 25, 1964. Mrs. Hoover had died in 1944 and was originally buried in California. She was moved to rest beside her husband shortly after his burial.